Wake up and smell the coffee
Aubrey de Grey of SENS Research Foundation is working to cure ageing
His research looks at the cause of ageing, ways to repair it and create a post-ageing world. He spoke with us on his work, opposition and whether we can expect immortality. We’ve picked out a few of our highlights here. Delve in to the full interview on page 11 of Issue Seven for more, including his thoughts on how our world will cope with an ageing population. He also shares what he will cover at the Festival of Genomics Boston.
FLG: You went from studying computer science as an undergraduate to pursuing a PhD in Biology. What prompted the shift in focus?
AdG: That happened in my late 20s, following my marriage to a biologist 19 years my senior. During the first couple of years with her I learned a lot of biology purely informally, and eventually it dawned on me that we were never discussing ageing. Eventually I came to understand that nearly everyone, even most biologists, was completely insane when it came to ageing – they had decided to cope with its horror just by putting it out of their minds rather than striving to do anything about it. So I realised that I could make much more difference in the world by working on ageing than in artificial intelligence research, which addresses only the world’s second biggest problem (most people’s need to spend most of their waking hours doing stuff they don’t want to, just to maintain everyone’s quality of life).
FLG: Your work has been met with opposition, and also a healthy amount of support. Who would you say have been your most challenging opponents and advocates of what you do at SENS?
AdG: The scientific opposition has largely died off now – as it should have, because it was always fatally flawed, being based on simple ignorance of what I was actually proposing or of the published experimental data on which I was basing my proposals. In that sense none of it was challenging at all. What WAS challenging, and to a substantial extent still is, was the gerontology community’s paranoia – “sticker shock” as I’ve called it – at any association with the dramatic but logically inescapable implications of my proposals in terms of longevity. As for advocates, there are increasingly many; perhaps the most important on the scientific side was the paper published in Cell in 2013 that pretty much entirely reinvented the core SENS concept of a divide-and-conquer, damage-repair approach. They didn’t cite me, but that doesn’t matter: what matters is that everyone and his dog cites THEM, proving that the idea is now totally orthodox.
FLG: At what point do we start to talk about immortality?
AdG: That would be the royal ‘we’, i.e. you. The I-word is taken – it refers to a zero risk of death, ever, from any cause, and is thus not within the domain of technology.