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Dr. Aubrey de Grey: On the Brink of Immorbidity

His research is leading to regenerative and anti-aging breakthroughs that could end human aging.

Fountain of Youth

In the 16th century, Spanish explorer and conquistador, Ponce de Leon traveled thousands of miles across the ocean in search of the fountain of youth. The elusive fountain was never found, but people haven’t lost hope in staying forever young.

Today, people all over the world try to fight aging the best way they know how – some spend hours in the gym, some try bean-burgers and tofu, and others use Botox and chemical peels to turn back the hands of time. While these changes may add a few years to one’s life or patch one’s aging ego, Dr. Aubrey de Grey, a biological researcher, author, and anti-aging evangelist, has another option – one that puts your 1,000th birthday within reach.

Growing Up

Raised in London by his mother, de Grey holds onto the child-like curiosity she instilled in him to this day, leading him to question death. She was an artist and encouraged him to pursue more technical subjects like math and science. He went on to study computer science at the University of Cambridge and received his bachelor’s degree in 1985.

After graduation, he met his wife, a fruit fly geneticist, who introduced him to the wonders of biology. Through her he took a job to run a database on fruit flies, and at that moment he became fascinated with the intersection of biology and computer science. He taught himself biology through tutoring sessions from his wife, reading journals and textbooks, and attending conferences. In 2000, he received his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Cambridge, focusing on gerontology – the scientific study of old age.

When his mother died, she left him $16.5 million. He donated $13 million to his organization, the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) Research Foundation, a California-based institute focused on regenerative medicine for aging.

Rejuvenation Research

While studying for his Ph.D., de Grey wrote a series of innovative papers proposing a mechanism for how mitochondrial mutations contribute to cellular and tissue decay. His research influenced the way gerontologists viewed old age, and birthed de Grey’s novel approach to aging. The doctor believes that a body’s cells should have regular maintenance, like a car or airplane, in order to slow down the aging process.

“90% of medical care is targeted towards the health problems of old age,” he said. “Research can prevent this, as we can get to the root of why we age and how we can fix it.”

He asserts that by looking at aging and so-called age-related diseases as simple damage accumulation, scientists can develop research to help reduce the rates of age-related illnesses. In simple terms, people could get older, but wouldn’t face sickness from age-related degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s. Since healthy people tend not to die, this could have the side-effect of taking longevity to new limits, making 100, 500, and even 1,000-year-old humans a possibility. Even though it sounds like a scene from a science-fiction movie, de Grey is on a medically backed mission to transform aging by looking at the causes of aging and researching applicable medical solutions.

He has authored research papers and books to help support his pioneering, but now mainstream, perspective. In 1999, de Grey published his book The Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging, detailing the effect that free radicals in cells have on aging. His co-authored second book, Ending Aging (2007), has been hailed as a bold “classic” look on how science can keep the Grim Reaper away by repairing or replacing human cells.

In 2006, de Grey and his trademark beard presented his TED Talk entitled A Roadmap to Aging, in which he argues that aging is merely a medical condition that is curable andencourages people to dissociate their age and likelihood of death. You can watch his talk here…

 

Due to its immense success, A Roadmap to Aging has been translated into 30 languages and has been seen by 3.7 million viewers. His other talks include Seeking Immorality (2014) and How We Can Finally Win the Fight Against Aging (2017).

Further, de Grey is currently the editor-in-chief of Rejuvenation Research, a bimonthly peer-reviewed scientific journal focused on stem cell research, neuroprotection, aging, and disease prevention.

Scientific Opposition

Since de Grey has been leading the charge to defeat biological aging, many scientists have contested his ideas, stating that they are far-fetched and improbable. He rightfully argues that no medical research has disproven his theory. In fact, he’s willing to bet the bank on it.

In 2005, in response to a scathing attack from a MIT Technology Review editor regarding de Grey’s credibility, appearance, and family life, which said “[de Grey] dresses like a shabby graduate student and affects Rip Van Winkle’s beard; he has no children; he has few interests outside the science of biogerontology; he drinks too much beer…,” de Grey was quite calm. Instead of asking for an apology from the editor, he partnered with him and offered $20,000 to any molecular biologist who could refute the work by de Grey and the SENS organization. No one was ever rewarded, and in the ensuing years the damage-repair paradigm has become widely accepted and even reinvented by other gerontologists.

Passing on the Knowledge

In his research, de Grey argues that aging is caused by multiple factors including accelerated genetic mutations, cellular waste metabolism, protein interconnections, cellular imbalances and other factors. He attributes aging to seven causes, which is the basis for the SENS Research Foundation.

The two leading concepts developed by the foundation are:

  • The Longevity Escape Velocity, which states that the person who will live to be 1,000 years or more will be born only 20 years before the first human to live to 150 years, due to progressive, step-by step technological improvements in cellular treatments.
  • The Robust Human Rejuvenation concept is based on the Robust Mouse Rejuvenation concept, which allows an individual to double their life expectancy through rejuvenation treatments.

“The science that we have at our fingertips can radically transform the way we live, so we don’t even have to think about age-related death,” he said. All in all, de Grey believes that it is his moral duty to educate the public on the possibility of avoiding aging, so humans don’t have to be a dying breed.

Find out more about this fascinating field of research at www.sens.org.