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This chapter is from the book

Living Forever: The Research of Dr. Aubrey de Grey

One of the people who is all for the therapies being developed in the previous pages by scientists such as David Sinclair is longevity researcher Aubrey de Grey. He is a theoretician of gerontology and chief officer of the SENS Foundation which was founded in 2009. It actively studies how to preventing age-related physical and cognitive decline.

“The work that David is doing and the approach we are doing at the SENS Foundation should be pursued full-tilt,” he said.

The two approaches are complementary. On one hand the “simple” therapies will keep you alive long enough to benefit from the more-complicated approaches studied by the SENS Foundation.

The two work hand in hand. “David (Sinclair) is looking at magic bullets, single interventions that have global impacts on the whole of aging. The SENS Foundation is looking at a divide and conquer approach to solving the problem of aging,” said de Grey.

The aging process is a series of degradations, so solving one issue won’t solve the entire problem. de Grey said, “The SENS approach is the sweet spot between stopping damage that occurs in the first place versus fixing the diseases and disabilities that result from old age.”

“There are seven problems targeted by the SENS Foundation research,” said de Grey. Here are the causes of aging and their proposed solutions:

  1. Cell atrophy—Cell death that occurs naturally in the heart and the brain as the body ages. Suggested solution: Stem cells can be added to the body to replenish parts of the system.

  2. Unwanted cells—The body contains unwanted cells, like fat cells that “poison” the body overtime. Suggested solution: A procedure called “suicide gene therapy” could be tried. Suicide gene therapy involves the injection of a viral or bacterial gene into the body causing unwanted cells to destroy themselves.

  3. Protein cross links—The loss of elasticity that occurs when protein links—components that hold together cells—are overproduced. Suggested solution: Drugs that counteract this process could be created.

  4. Internal cellular garbage—Cells are in a constant state of action, breaking down proteins and molecules that do not serve the body. Molecules that can’t be digested become “junk” inside the cells. Suggested solution: Enzymes that break down this “junk” could be developed.

  5. External cellular garbage—“Junk” accumulates on the outside of cells. Suggested solution: Development of enzymes to break down this “junk.”

  6. Mitochondrial damage—Damage over time to the power supplier in cells slows energy production. Suggested solution: Gene therapies could repair and prevent this damage.

  7. Chromosomal mutations—Mutations to DNA components cause diseases like cancer. Suggested solution: The regular replenishment of cells via stem cell therapy could help.

De Grey proposes that in 25 to 30 years we will have the technology to solve aging. “However,” he cautioned, “one big unknown in terms of time prediction is not just science, but feedback from the public.” The process to approve new therapies involves the development of the technology and then the social, legal, or political policy to allow the technology to be used.

The second issue that could slow progress is the lack of funding. De Grey said, “The world’s best people working on these projects are hot to trot but they are working much more slowly than they could due to limitations on funds. As far as I am concerned, if we had the money, we would be done. When I say ‘the money’ I am talking a ridiculously small amount of money. At the moment the key work that needs to be prioritized the most is the work at the earliest stage of development. That is, at the stage of cell culture and experiments with mice as opposed to clinical trials. That means, much cheaper.”

“Right now SENS has a budget of about $4 to $5 million per year,” said De Grey, adding that there is another $10 million being spent by other similar organizations studying the same things.

“That is unbelievably tiny. We probably only have to multiply that by ten and we would pretty much be able to do all we wanted to do in the short term,” he said.

“In the longer term, 8–10 years from now, we will want to be doing more clinical trials, which will be more expensive. But, that kind of doesn’t bother me because it seems to me that the achievement of specific results in the lab with mice to motivate clinical trials from a scientific perspective was going to be ample to also motivate the funding of those trials,” he concluded.

Once this is demonstrated, he believes that acquiring the funding will be trivial because the work and results will garner the interest and enthusiasm of the public and policy makers.

Incidentally, de Grey believes he will live forever, but just in case he doesn’t, as a precaution, he has personally invested in a specific type of cryonic preservation known as neuropreservation. During this procedure the head is removed from a deceased person and frozen to protect the face and brain. When the specimen is revived years later it is attached to a new body.

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