The fountain of youth. The holy grail. The philosopher’s stone. The strategies for engineered negligible senescence (SENS).
Uh, say what? Made up by noted anti-aging guru Aubrey de Grey, SENS purports to outline a “possibly comprehensive plan” (de Grey’s words) to cure, or at least dramatically slow down, human aging.
De Grey is perhaps the anti-aging movement’s most vocal and visible proponent and I’m excited to get a chance to see him speak in person in Baltimore this Wednesday, Oct. 12. In an event sponsored by the Community College of Baltimore (in Essex) and The Futurist magazine, de Grey promises to explain how we “may well” discover therapies to extend the healthy lifespan by 30 years within our lives and how those therapies will “very probably” improve rapidly enough to make immortality a reality, also in our lifetime.
A Cambridge-educated computer scientist with a PhD in gerontology, you might mistake de Grey for a biomedical researcher working on the cutting edge of science. In reality, he is fund-raiser-in-chief for the California-based SENS Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity “dedicated to combating the aging process.”
De Grey often argues that the major obstacle to “ending aging” is a lack of “public enthusiasm” and funding. He has been involved in several interesting campaigns to raise money and award scientific discoveries that improve human longevity, such as helping found the MPrize, which awards researchers who break the world-record for oldest mice (De Grey left the Methuselah Foundation, which sponsors the MPrize, to start the SENS Foundation).
I am skeptical of de Grey’s work and I’ll use his own introduction to explain why:
It may seem premature to be discussing the elimination of human aging as a cause of death, when so little progress has been made in even postponing it says Aubrey de Grey.
That’s right — despite all the marvels of modern medical science, there is absolutely zero evidence that any known treatment has ever extended human life by a single day. Immortality is as fantastical an idea today as it was in ancient times.
Now, I have nothing against extending human longevity. And to clarify, I’m not talking about curing cancer or creating vaccines that can save people’s lives. I — and de Grey — are talking about extending the maximum human lifespan.
For instance, the rapid increase in the average human lifespan this century had nothing to do with extending human life. It was primarily a factor of lower infant morality rates. As we recently blogged, ancient Romans were just as likely to live into their 70s or 80s as we are so long as they survived the rigors of childhood. In fact, American life expectancy actually dropped for the first time in decades last year and children today are the first generation expected to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.
Needless to say, I can no more tell the future than Aubrey de Grey so anything is possible. I look forward to reporting back to ChangingAging readers the latest in longevity science