It is always pleasant to see new efforts to produce longevity-focused interest sites and publications; Longevity.Technology is a recent example, here publishing an interview with Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation that touches on recent developments in the field of rejuvenation research. There have been many such news organization initiatives over the past ten to fifteen years, and all too few of them lasted. Hopefully that will change now that an industry of rejuvenation is forming, beginning with the development of senolytic therapies, and ever greater degrees of funding and attention are directed towards this part of the life science field. If we look at larger fields, enough of that funding and attention can spill over to support a community focused on analysis, reporting, and other such work. That should happen here as well.
We've read a lot of very compelling reasons from you as to why we as a society should care about aging, but we're very curious what made you care about it?
Nothing really made me care about it. It was always obvious to me that it was the number one most important problem in the world. It's the thing that causes by far the greatest amount of suffering and everyone gets it. The astonishing thing was that other people didn't think that way. In fact, I only discovered that others didn't in my late 20s. I had gone through my entire life presuming that it was as obvious as the colour of the sky. It wasn't something I would even have conversations about, so I'd never done the experiment to determine whether anyone else agreed. Then I met my ex-wife, who was quite a senior biologist at the time. And I began to discover that, actually, people didn't think that way, not even in biology. And hardly any work was being done to deal with this problem. So I thought "Well, that won't do."
What is the SENS platform and why did you need to create it?
SENS stands for Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence. It's a formal name for the way my organisation, the SENS Research Foundation, develops therapies for the diseases and disabilities of aging. I was able to see that there was indeed a very different, and entirely overlooked, approach to dealing with aging. And it was something the people who were studying it weren't doing: that we should essentially be trying to repair damage in the body. When I'm feeling frivolous, I like to compare gerontologists of that era to seismologists. What they studied was bad for you, but they had no idea whatsoever how they could actually do anything about it. I stuck to my guns, stood my ground and people have gradually caught up and understood the kinds of things I've been saying all the time. Now it's totally mainstream - orthodox - and people are reinventing the idea in slightly different language. So that's all very nice.
What undeveloped areas are you working on at the moments?
One that really is a centrepiece project in-house (and has been for quite some time) is to put back-up copies of the mitochondrial DNA in the cell nucleus. For non-biologists who are reading, mitochondria are very essential parts of each cell that perform the chemistry of breathing. They combine oxygen with nutrients in order to extract energy from those nutrients. And, unlike any other part of the cell, the mitochondria have their own DNA - separate from the DNA of the nucleus.
But the process of extracting energy from nutrients using oxygen is chemically hairy, producing a load of by-products (in particular free radicals) that can damage the mitochondrial DNA and give it a really bad day. So the idea that we've taken, that was put forward in the mid 80s, is to essentially put copies of the mitochondrial DNA inside the nucleus, modified so that it still works in there, to shield it from this damage. It's not as hard as it sounds, but it still is very hard! People gave up on it ... they thought it was too hard. I thought that they'd given up a bit too easily. And it turns out I was right - we had to work about ten years or so before we eventually got to the point of being able to publish a single paper on this. But we eventually got there a couple of years ago, and now we have a second paper in the works demonstrating that we have done most of the job.