Getting Old

“I’m trying to save the lives of 100,000 people a day”
Call him crazy, but Aubrey de Grey believes that people can live for hundreds of years: it’s just a technological leap we haven’t made yet.
We hate to bring this up, but the odds are that you’ll get old and sick one day and then you’ll die. If you’re over 30, your physical deterioration has already begun. And now, every day brings you closer to the end. It sounds dramatic, but hey, it’s not so bad. Getting old, we tell ourselves, is a privilege. It’s part of life. Sort of like death.
Aubrey de Grey doesn’t quite see it that way. To him, getting old has always seemed like a bad thing—a problem that needs solving. “It just didn’t make sense to me that most people see aging as a natural thing they had made peace with,” says de Grey, who in 2009 founded the SENS Research Foundation, based in Mountain View, California, to fight the aging process. Why do people accept deterioration? De Grey’s reply is quick. “Aging is so nasty and horrible that the only way for people to cope with it is to trick themselves into thinking that it’s not nasty and horrible at all. They have to come up with an utterly irrational rationalization in order to get on with their miserably short lives.”
De Grey often looks at things from an unusual angle. His contrarian views perhaps explain his bold efforts to promote the prevention and cure of diseases through replacement of lost cells, repair of sick cells and removal of unwanted cells and molecules. Within a few decades, he says, we’ll have hospitals where medical staff will
replace, repair or remove poorly functioning body parts, just as mechanics do with vintage cars. And this will put an end to the gradual physical decline that is the leading cause of death in rich countries.
With the ability to repair the damage wrought by aging, our bodies will become young and vital again—and stay that way. At least until we have an accident—a car wreck, a falling meteorite—after a few thousand years. The first person to live to be a thousand years old, de Grey says, might already be around today. It may be you.
Some say this scenario is not a contrarian vision but an absurd fantasy. Others call it genius.
Let’s be clear: there are reasons enough not to take Aubrey David Nicholas Jasper de Grey too seriously. He studied software development, not biology. (Then again, many breakthroughs, he claims, are achieved by people working outside their disciplines.) He’s never worked in a lab. (Biology, he scoffs, is full of Nobel Prize winners who’ve never touched a test tube.) At best he’s a pioneer, at worst a charlatan. (In the 1950s, de Grey says, anyone who’d predicted a man would set foot on the moon within a generation would’ve been laughed out of town.) And yet his ideas aren’t so easily dismissed. After MIT Technology Review published a frontal attack on de Grey, it offered $20,000 to anyone who could persuasively demonstrate that his views were “so wrong” as to be “unworthy of learned debate.” Five entries came in; none convinced the jury. Meanwhile, studies that support de Grey’s case are winning awards. The Methuselah Mouse Prize for longevity—or “Mprize”—rewards researchers who break the world record for the oldest-ever mouse. Mice usually live about two years. In one study, rodents whose growth hormone receptors were genetically deactivated lived almost five healthy years. And mice whose calorie intakes were restricted halfway through their normal life spans experienced a dramatic slowdown in aging, living about three and a half years. “When we show the world a mouse can stay youthful so much longer,” says de Grey, “people will start to realize they can, too.”
On a November afternoon, Aubrey de Grey is late. We’ve arranged to meet in a pub around the corner from his home in the university town of Cambridge, England. The bartender tells me de Grey’s already been in this morning, sitting at his usual table, just big enough for a laptop and a few papers. Finally, de Grey walks in. “Sorry I’m late,” he says. “I just woke up eight minutes ago. I need a beer.”
It wasn’t his first that day, and it wouldn’t be his last. That could be one more reason, perhaps, to take him less seriously. But look past the eccentric appearance, past the scruffy clothes and the trace of beer foam in the chestnut-brown beard, and sooner or later it becomes clear that the 51-year-old de Grey is someone worth paying attention to. His ideas about the future may be outlandish, but that doesn’t mean they’re ­implausible.
He met Adelaide Carpenter, a geneticist 19 years his senior, at a party in Cambridge, and they later married. One day in 1992, her boss needed someone who understood computers and biology. And that’s how de Grey got his job—which he held until 2006—as the head of software development for a fruit-fly database.
De Grey was amazed that biologists weren’t trying to fight aging. He went to conferences and read scholarly literature in the field of gerontology, the science of senescence. Before long, he had his first insight. He published a book hypothesizing how mutations accumulate in the mitochondria, the cell’s power plants, as we grow older.
In 2000, he had his second eureka moment. After flying to Los Angeles for a conference, lying awake in his hotel room with severe jet lag, he realized that the human body is like a car. As carefully as we drive it and as diligently as we keep it oiled, sooner or later the engine will give out and it will stop running. But if a mechanic keeps replacing the broken parts, it can last forever.
With striking precision, de Grey mapped the primary causes of the diseases of aging. Over the course of our lives, our bodies become waste heaps. Molecules and cells break down and die off, tissues get damaged and cease to function. Because of this gradual decay, pneumonia can kill an elderly person, but it’s rarely fatal to the young, who are also less likely to suffer heart attacks and cancer. More than a decade later, de Grey remains proud of his “seven deadly things” list, which he believes cover all causes of death. “Nobody,” he says, “has come up with any new reasons why people become sick as they get old.”
De Grey predicted that we could prevent or cure illness through actions such as cleansing our bodies of accumulated toxins and switching off harmful genes. We could keep ourselves eternally young, he said, by rejuvenating our bodies with the help of new technologies, so that 50- and 500-year-olds would look like they’re 25. And he boldly asserted that most of us would have access to these therapies someday, if only the money was made available for their development.
His plan to wage war on aging by continuing and building on existing research, such as stem cell treatment studies, enjoys the support of leading scientists, including biochemist Bruce Ames. “Fixing the damage of aging,” de Grey concludes, “is a much more promising approach than slowing it down by cleaning up metabolism.”
It will come as no surprise that Aubrey de Grey has drawn criticism for his pronouncements. In biogerontology circles, he was ­initially seen as a crackpot, best ignored; then a pariah deserving of ridicule; and finally a dangerous provocateur who had to be vigorously resisted. Over time, though, his idea of applying the techniques of regenerative medicine to the aging process has won more acceptance. These days, de Grey gets invited to organize sessions at conferences that, not long ago, he wasn’t even allowed to speak at.
But envy still dogs him: his “colleagues” who’ve formally studied the subject tend to get considerably less attention than de Grey does. Perhaps they’re secretly jealous of his ability to convey his logic in mellifluous phrases to experts and investors alike. The string of articles he’s written for journals and consumer publications might well inspire a mixture of admiration and resentment, too.
Scientists regularly point out that he doesn’t base his arguments on fact. De Grey, for his part, says his ideas are rooted in technology, rather than science, and therefore operate by different rules than scientists do. In his opinion, “scientists find things out for the sake of finding things out. They don’t really care at all about the humanitarian benefits that might arise from their work. So they don’t prioritize which work to do on the basis of the possible consequences. I’m not that sort of guy. I want to help humanity.”
So if an outsider suddenly claims aging can be cured, he’s bound to be reviled and ridiculed, de Grey says, just as he was. It goes to show the differences between scientists and techies: they deploy different kinds of creativity and follow different rules. Hence, he says, his predictions should be seen not as hypotheses that can be tested according to the scientific method but as the objectives of a technological process.
Clashes are inevitable. De Grey cites a classic example: “The top physicists in the world were publishing papers saying heavier-than-air flight was theoretically impossible, right until the point it was done.”
It’s pronouncements like this that attract the interest of donors, the bulk of whom hail from Silicon Valley. Its denizens share de Grey’s optimism about using technology to drastically alter the course of the future. His funders include Peter Thiel, cofounder of the online payment system PayPal, who’s already given millions to the SENS Research Foundation. For people like Thiel, says de Grey, “combating aging is just another technological hurdle.”
Skeptics retort that plenty of people have predicted we’d soon be living forever—and all of them are dead. “Ha-ha. Yes, well, they’ve given this field a rather bad name, haven’t they?” de Grey says, grinning cheerfully. He stresses that he wants to be judged on his own merits, not in the context of pronouncements by others. Besides, contrary to popular media reports about his work, he’s not talking about living forever. Death will still be part of our lives, de Grey says, but it will happen much, much, much later, more as an exception to the rule. And of course, people can always opt to get sick and die if they choose to.
The more esoterically inclined take a dim view of de Grey. He reduces people to machines, they say, and a mechanistic worldview gives short shrift to unquantifiable dimensions. He claims they’re exaggerating: “I don’t say that humans are machines; I only say that the human body is a machine. We don’t need to take any particular position on the existence or nature of any nonphysical component of the individual in order to be confident that the body can be maintained like a machine.” Fair enough.
Pester him with practical objections about pension plans or overpopulation and he’ll start sighing and compulsively stroking his beard. “People have this crazy knee-jerk reaction when they start thinking about the consequences of people not dying as fast as they do now,” he says. But the changes he’s working toward won’t happen overnight; we’ll adapt. And who knows—maybe the world owes many of its problems to the very fact that we all die much too soon.
People always say you have to respect the cycle of life, that battling old age is unethical, even dangerous. “I’m probably doing more to combat aging than any other person on this planet,” de Grey says. “I’m trying to save the lives of 100,000 people a day, 30 million a year.” And what exactly is so unethical about helping humans live for many more years in good health?
De Grey waves aside the argument that we shouldn’t mess with death. “Yes, death is part of life,” he acknowledges. “But not long ago, tuberculosis was also part of life. Is it bad that we’ve found a way so it’s not part of life anymore? And the effort to develop technology to alter nature is also part of life. It’s a natural part of what makes us human. We can tackle the tragic and enormous problem of aging by using our intelligence and our ability to manipulate nature for our benefit. That’s how we show that we’re true humanitarians.”
And that’s a cause we can get behind.
5 reasons why you could live to be very, very old
1 The history of medical science is a history of the fight against disease. And getting old leads to a range of diseases that kill vast numbers of people, especially in rich countries. De Grey’s war on aging is less a new chapter than an extension of an age-old process.
2 For years, the pharmaceutical industry was all about blockbuster drugs—successful medications for big markets. That business model has long been unsustainable. The industry’s already shifting toward regenerative medicine, which focuses on the repair of cells, tissues and organs. This model is receiving increasing attention and funding. De Grey’s applying it to aging.
3 People have long tried to delay aging through metabolic interventions such as diet and exercise. While this undeniably helps, de Grey says, simply replacing poorly functioning body parts, as you would with a car, wouldn’t be that much harder and would probably produce dramatically greater effects.
4 Studies on mice paint a promising picture. Scientists were able to double mouse life spans through genetic modification. And rodents who underwent another procedure halfway through their normal life span lived years longer than their lab mates, in good health.
5 A lot of tools that are necessary to extend life are already available, but in a very fragmented way. Cellular reprogramming and tissue and organ engineering incorporate thousands of biomedical discoveries made in the different areas of science and technology. These range from the fields of refrigeration and bioreactors to reagents and materials. | M.V.

Solution News Source

Getting Old

“I’m trying to save the lives of 100,000 people a day”
Call him crazy, but Aubrey de Grey believes that people can live for hundreds of years: it’s just a technological leap we haven’t made yet.
We hate to bring this up, but the odds are that you’ll get old and sick one day and then you’ll die. If you’re over 30, your physical deterioration has already begun. And now, every day brings you closer to the end. It sounds dramatic, but hey, it’s not so bad. Getting old, we tell ourselves, is a privilege. It’s part of life. Sort of like death.
Aubrey de Grey doesn’t quite see it that way. To him, getting old has always seemed like a bad thing—a problem that needs solving. “It just didn’t make sense to me that most people see aging as a natural thing they had made peace with,” says de Grey, who in 2009 founded the SENS Research Foundation, based in Mountain View, California, to fight the aging process. Why do people accept deterioration? De Grey’s reply is quick. “Aging is so nasty and horrible that the only way for people to cope with it is to trick themselves into thinking that it’s not nasty and horrible at all. They have to come up with an utterly irrational rationalization in order to get on with their miserably short lives.”
De Grey often looks at things from an unusual angle. His contrarian views perhaps explain his bold efforts to promote the prevention and cure of diseases through replacement of lost cells, repair of sick cells and removal of unwanted cells and molecules. Within a few decades, he says, we’ll have hospitals where medical staff will
replace, repair or remove poorly functioning body parts, just as mechanics do with vintage cars. And this will put an end to the gradual physical decline that is the leading cause of death in rich countries.
With the ability to repair the damage wrought by aging, our bodies will become young and vital again—and stay that way. At least until we have an accident—a car wreck, a falling meteorite—after a few thousand years. The first person to live to be a thousand years old, de Grey says, might already be around today. It may be you.
Some say this scenario is not a contrarian vision but an absurd fantasy. Others call it genius.
Let’s be clear: there are reasons enough not to take Aubrey David Nicholas Jasper de Grey too seriously. He studied software development, not biology. (Then again, many breakthroughs, he claims, are achieved by people working outside their disciplines.) He’s never worked in a lab. (Biology, he scoffs, is full of Nobel Prize winners who’ve never touched a test tube.) At best he’s a pioneer, at worst a charlatan. (In the 1950s, de Grey says, anyone who’d predicted a man would set foot on the moon within a generation would’ve been laughed out of town.) And yet his ideas aren’t so easily dismissed. After MIT Technology Review published a frontal attack on de Grey, it offered $20,000 to anyone who could persuasively demonstrate that his views were “so wrong” as to be “unworthy of learned debate.” Five entries came in; none convinced the jury. Meanwhile, studies that support de Grey’s case are winning awards. The Methuselah Mouse Prize for longevity—or “Mprize”—rewards researchers who break the world record for the oldest-ever mouse. Mice usually live about two years. In one study, rodents whose growth hormone receptors were genetically deactivated lived almost five healthy years. And mice whose calorie intakes were restricted halfway through their normal life spans experienced a dramatic slowdown in aging, living about three and a half years. “When we show the world a mouse can stay youthful so much longer,” says de Grey, “people will start to realize they can, too.”
On a November afternoon, Aubrey de Grey is late. We’ve arranged to meet in a pub around the corner from his home in the university town of Cambridge, England. The bartender tells me de Grey’s already been in this morning, sitting at his usual table, just big enough for a laptop and a few papers. Finally, de Grey walks in. “Sorry I’m late,” he says. “I just woke up eight minutes ago. I need a beer.”
It wasn’t his first that day, and it wouldn’t be his last. That could be one more reason, perhaps, to take him less seriously. But look past the eccentric appearance, past the scruffy clothes and the trace of beer foam in the chestnut-brown beard, and sooner or later it becomes clear that the 51-year-old de Grey is someone worth paying attention to. His ideas about the future may be outlandish, but that doesn’t mean they’re ­implausible.
He met Adelaide Carpenter, a geneticist 19 years his senior, at a party in Cambridge, and they later married. One day in 1992, her boss needed someone who understood computers and biology. And that’s how de Grey got his job—which he held until 2006—as the head of software development for a fruit-fly database.
De Grey was amazed that biologists weren’t trying to fight aging. He went to conferences and read scholarly literature in the field of gerontology, the science of senescence. Before long, he had his first insight. He published a book hypothesizing how mutations accumulate in the mitochondria, the cell’s power plants, as we grow older.
In 2000, he had his second eureka moment. After flying to Los Angeles for a conference, lying awake in his hotel room with severe jet lag, he realized that the human body is like a car. As carefully as we drive it and as diligently as we keep it oiled, sooner or later the engine will give out and it will stop running. But if a mechanic keeps replacing the broken parts, it can last forever.
With striking precision, de Grey mapped the primary causes of the diseases of aging. Over the course of our lives, our bodies become waste heaps. Molecules and cells break down and die off, tissues get damaged and cease to function. Because of this gradual decay, pneumonia can kill an elderly person, but it’s rarely fatal to the young, who are also less likely to suffer heart attacks and cancer. More than a decade later, de Grey remains proud of his “seven deadly things” list, which he believes cover all causes of death. “Nobody,” he says, “has come up with any new reasons why people become sick as they get old.”
De Grey predicted that we could prevent or cure illness through actions such as cleansing our bodies of accumulated toxins and switching off harmful genes. We could keep ourselves eternally young, he said, by rejuvenating our bodies with the help of new technologies, so that 50- and 500-year-olds would look like they’re 25. And he boldly asserted that most of us would have access to these therapies someday, if only the money was made available for their development.
His plan to wage war on aging by continuing and building on existing research, such as stem cell treatment studies, enjoys the support of leading scientists, including biochemist Bruce Ames. “Fixing the damage of aging,” de Grey concludes, “is a much more promising approach than slowing it down by cleaning up metabolism.”
It will come as no surprise that Aubrey de Grey has drawn criticism for his pronouncements. In biogerontology circles, he was ­initially seen as a crackpot, best ignored; then a pariah deserving of ridicule; and finally a dangerous provocateur who had to be vigorously resisted. Over time, though, his idea of applying the techniques of regenerative medicine to the aging process has won more acceptance. These days, de Grey gets invited to organize sessions at conferences that, not long ago, he wasn’t even allowed to speak at.
But envy still dogs him: his “colleagues” who’ve formally studied the subject tend to get considerably less attention than de Grey does. Perhaps they’re secretly jealous of his ability to convey his logic in mellifluous phrases to experts and investors alike. The string of articles he’s written for journals and consumer publications might well inspire a mixture of admiration and resentment, too.
Scientists regularly point out that he doesn’t base his arguments on fact. De Grey, for his part, says his ideas are rooted in technology, rather than science, and therefore operate by different rules than scientists do. In his opinion, “scientists find things out for the sake of finding things out. They don’t really care at all about the humanitarian benefits that might arise from their work. So they don’t prioritize which work to do on the basis of the possible consequences. I’m not that sort of guy. I want to help humanity.”
So if an outsider suddenly claims aging can be cured, he’s bound to be reviled and ridiculed, de Grey says, just as he was. It goes to show the differences between scientists and techies: they deploy different kinds of creativity and follow different rules. Hence, he says, his predictions should be seen not as hypotheses that can be tested according to the scientific method but as the objectives of a technological process.
Clashes are inevitable. De Grey cites a classic example: “The top physicists in the world were publishing papers saying heavier-than-air flight was theoretically impossible, right until the point it was done.”
It’s pronouncements like this that attract the interest of donors, the bulk of whom hail from Silicon Valley. Its denizens share de Grey’s optimism about using technology to drastically alter the course of the future. His funders include Peter Thiel, cofounder of the online payment system PayPal, who’s already given millions to the SENS Research Foundation. For people like Thiel, says de Grey, “combating aging is just another technological hurdle.”
Skeptics retort that plenty of people have predicted we’d soon be living forever—and all of them are dead. “Ha-ha. Yes, well, they’ve given this field a rather bad name, haven’t they?” de Grey says, grinning cheerfully. He stresses that he wants to be judged on his own merits, not in the context of pronouncements by others. Besides, contrary to popular media reports about his work, he’s not talking about living forever. Death will still be part of our lives, de Grey says, but it will happen much, much, much later, more as an exception to the rule. And of course, people can always opt to get sick and die if they choose to.
The more esoterically inclined take a dim view of de Grey. He reduces people to machines, they say, and a mechanistic worldview gives short shrift to unquantifiable dimensions. He claims they’re exaggerating: “I don’t say that humans are machines; I only say that the human body is a machine. We don’t need to take any particular position on the existence or nature of any nonphysical component of the individual in order to be confident that the body can be maintained like a machine.” Fair enough.
Pester him with practical objections about pension plans or overpopulation and he’ll start sighing and compulsively stroking his beard. “People have this crazy knee-jerk reaction when they start thinking about the consequences of people not dying as fast as they do now,” he says. But the changes he’s working toward won’t happen overnight; we’ll adapt. And who knows—maybe the world owes many of its problems to the very fact that we all die much too soon.
People always say you have to respect the cycle of life, that battling old age is unethical, even dangerous. “I’m probably doing more to combat aging than any other person on this planet,” de Grey says. “I’m trying to save the lives of 100,000 people a day, 30 million a year.” And what exactly is so unethical about helping humans live for many more years in good health?
De Grey waves aside the argument that we shouldn’t mess with death. “Yes, death is part of life,” he acknowledges. “But not long ago, tuberculosis was also part of life. Is it bad that we’ve found a way so it’s not part of life anymore? And the effort to develop technology to alter nature is also part of life. It’s a natural part of what makes us human. We can tackle the tragic and enormous problem of aging by using our intelligence and our ability to manipulate nature for our benefit. That’s how we show that we’re true humanitarians.”
And that’s a cause we can get behind.
5 reasons why you could live to be very, very old
1 The history of medical science is a history of the fight against disease. And getting old leads to a range of diseases that kill vast numbers of people, especially in rich countries. De Grey’s war on aging is less a new chapter than an extension of an age-old process.
2 For years, the pharmaceutical industry was all about blockbuster drugs—successful medications for big markets. That business model has long been unsustainable. The industry’s already shifting toward regenerative medicine, which focuses on the repair of cells, tissues and organs. This model is receiving increasing attention and funding. De Grey’s applying it to aging.
3 People have long tried to delay aging through metabolic interventions such as diet and exercise. While this undeniably helps, de Grey says, simply replacing poorly functioning body parts, as you would with a car, wouldn’t be that much harder and would probably produce dramatically greater effects.
4 Studies on mice paint a promising picture. Scientists were able to double mouse life spans through genetic modification. And rodents who underwent another procedure halfway through their normal life span lived years longer than their lab mates, in good health.
5 A lot of tools that are necessary to extend life are already available, but in a very fragmented way. Cellular reprogramming and tissue and organ engineering incorporate thousands of biomedical discoveries made in the different areas of science and technology. These range from the fields of refrigeration and bioreactors to reagents and materials. | M.V.

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