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Do You Want to Live Forever?

Article #32 • Written by Alan Bellows

"One hundred and fifty thousand people die every day, and two-thirds of those die of aging in one way or the other," utters Aubrey de Grey between sips of English ale. "If I speed up the cure for aging by one day, then I've saved 100,000 people. Actually, I probably do that every week."

It is doubtful that Mr. de Grey is weary of reading articles that depict him as the classic casual-dressing, long-bearded, mad-scientist type. His persona is unashamedly atypical, as are his ideas about life, death, and aging. Aubrey de Grey is a biogerontologist at the University of Cambridge, and a high-profile longevity theorist. He was born in England in 1963, and he aims to live well beyond the end of this century. While his fellow gerontologists focus more on making elderly people as healthy as possible for as long as possible-- known in the business as "compression of morbidity" or "healthspan"-- Mr. de Grey is working to eliminate the inconvenience of death altogether.

His recipe, known as Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), calls for a number of ingredients which do not yet exist. But each is theoretically within the grasp of medical science in the coming decades, at which time Mr. de Grey believes they can all be combined into a highly effective anti-aging therapy. He has been heard to declare that the first people who will live to see their 1,000th birthday are already alive today.

The SENS theory describes "seven deadly things" that erode the body's youthfulness at the cellular level, eventually leading to death by old age. Aubrey de Grey means to apply exercise, gene therapy, stem cells, and other yet-to-be-discovered methods of medicine to counteract each of these age-advancing devices:

  1. Cell death and atrophy: Treatable with exercise, stem cells, and chemicals which stimulate cell division.
  2. Cancerous cells:Theoretically treatable with a type of gene therapy being developed, called Whole-body Interdiction of Lengthening of Telomeres (WILT).
  3. Mutant mitochondria: Mutated DNA in the mitochondria causes a number of diseases. These can be prevented by moving the mitochondrial DNA into the cell nucleus, where the rest of the DNA resides.
  4. Cell senescence (unwanted cells): Fat cells and other unwanted cruft can be removed surgically, or by stimulating the immune system to attack unwanted cells.
  5. Extracellular crosslinks (loss of elasticity): Certain proteins, such as those in cells making up the arteries, become too rigid over time because they bond to each other. These bonds can be broken with certain chemicals (some in clinical trials even today).
  6. Extracellular junk: "Plaque" which collects between cells can be eliminated by stimulating the immune system, and/or by using peptides called "beta-breakers."
  7. Intracellular junk: Molecular garbage can be prevented from overwhelming certain cells by introducing enzymes which are known to be effective against such molecules.

Many scientists put no stock in Aubrey de Grey's SENS theories, but others hold the man and his efforts in high esteem. One thing is certain... the pursuit of curing elderliness is worthwhile. The SENS theory may be imperfect, and may in fact be completely off base. But theories can evolve, and in the meantime, his research is moving in the right direction.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 24 October 2005. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

Article design by Alan Bellows.
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24 Comments
Marius
Posted 25 October 2005 at 10:19 am

While this is a great idea, and I certainly would love to live forever, I can forsee two very big problems should he succeed. First of all, we are severely taxing the resources of this planet with a surplus of people already, what horrors lie in a future where lifespans are extended indefinately? And secondly this sounds like a rather expensive procedure, so presumably only the reasonably well off would be able to afford the luxury of longer life. This would inevitably lead to a major divide between the long-lived haves, and the short-lived have-nots. If that's not a recipe for civil war I don't know what is.


Alan Bellows
Posted 25 October 2005 at 10:27 am

Aubrey de Grey discusses those issues here and here. Not that his words offer perfect solutions, but it's clear that he's aware of the concerns. Part of the problem is that people lack the foresight to make the right decisions about the environment and resources... but perhaps with the reality of having to live with our own bad choices (rather than just leaving them to our children), we could learn to make more intelligent choices.


Chory
Posted 03 May 2006 at 04:43 pm

I for one would hate to live forever. I don't - and never have - really understood why someone would want to live a really long time. My boyfriend thinks I'm really weird for that, heh. Unless everyone and everything was also immortal, I would have to kill myself. I couldn't bear to live while everyone around me died.

But hey! What do I know? :P


freshmatrix
Posted 06 May 2006 at 08:52 pm

I wonder what would be the 'meaning of life' with much much longer life (+1000 yrs).

freshmatrix


liketosee
Posted 07 May 2006 at 08:12 pm

one scary thing about immortality is the consideration of one's immortal memory.

as exemplified above, who would want to live beyond the (renewable) memories of shared people?
to me this is an interesting paradox, with a long life do you gain a long term memory? would you see people you've lost in new people? would things get boring?
if everyone lived forever, things might get boring, and we would have to expand our resources, or expand our ability to use available resources. the birth rate would have to decrease substantially.
does anyone else fear the idea of fewer and fewer truly original thoughts as population increases? i mean, history repeats itself till people remember, right?
well, whatever, i want to live forever.
i enjoy the constant flux of life i go through. you know, the highs, the lows, the in-between. growth and digression. balancing act.
does our current ability to communicate diminish our ability to understand?


MisterF
Posted 12 July 2006 at 02:32 pm

There is plenty of room for more people, There is a huge area called outter space it is the final frontier for man. And as far as resources I'm not to concerned about that. There are other alternatives that are being worked on. I really hate living in the stone ages I wish I had been born a few hundred years later.


Stead311
Posted 09 August 2006 at 10:45 am

Sometimes I have a hard time living with myself. I dont think i could deal with that another 1000+ years. I can also imagine that a life sentence in prison would be horrible, much like it is today... 'cept 1000 times worse.


foodovision
Posted 09 August 2006 at 06:08 pm

Wow...there is so much to say about this. Let me attempt to show why many of these ideas are ridiculous:
#2: OK, preventing telomeres from lengthening might kill cancer cells. However, one of the primary causes of aging is believed to be the SHORTENING of telomeres, which allows a particular cell or cell line only a certain number of divisions before mitosis is unable to occur again. (I believe there's an article on this site about HeLa cells which makes mention of this phenomenon.) So, it would seem to me that preventing telomeres from maintaining their length or growing longer would hinder the cause rather than further it.
#3: I don't know where to begin with this one. Mitochondria have been the eukaryotic cell's powerhouse for untold eons, and the system works pretty well. Moving the DNA of the mitochondrion to the nucleus is preposterous. a) I don't see how this would prevent mutation, as the cell nucleus is just as susceptible to damage (e.g., conventional cancers and genetic diseases) and b) most cells have more than one mitochondrion, especially muscle cells which can have hundreds of them to generate the energy needed to produce movement, and perhaps most importantly, c) the proteins synthesized from the mitochondrial genome interact with the structure of the mitochondrion specifically, and this is what allows them to work. What good would a bunch of mitochondrial genes do floating around in the nucleus with no scaffolding upon which to function?.
#6/7: Introducing into the human genome enzymes which are supposed to clean out "plaque" or "cellular crap" may sound like a good idea, but remember that every enzyme, every protein and every small or large molecule in a cell is part of an incredibly complex web of interactions. For example, the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway was discovered as a pathway which breaks down "aging" proteins, but in the past couple of decades, it's been shown that this pathway, made up of only a couple of proteins, has enormously wide reaching abilities, and is involved in a whole lot more than was initially thought.
Throwing a crap-eating enzyme into every cell in the body would almost certainly have disastrous consequences: either by screwing with other established biochemical pathways, or, failing that, by screwing with these pathways by proxy: the byproducts of the plaque-busting might themselves throw a wrench in the gears of any functioning cell.

These are all very nice pie-in-the-sky ideas, but we aren't even close to being able to understand every last detail of cellular function, let alone modifying that function with such a top-down approach.
This guy is either a visionary or a crackpot. Likely a bit of both.


rarrzero
Posted 21 September 2006 at 03:14 pm

#2 isn't a problem, foodovision. The goal there is to make telomeres stable, not lengthening OR shortening.

#3 is the only one which I think isn't worth going for. It's too complex and mutations in mitochondrial DNA could be repaired, instead of transplanting it elsewhere.

#6/7 is probably the part which would require the most testing to make sure that the 'crap' is actually crap at all. You seem to be underestimating this guy - he isn't advocating doing all of this without extensive testing. This is always the most ridiculous argument against a scientific procedure - *of course* it's going to be tested to make sure that there's no serious effects, any decent scientist knows that that has to be done. A hypothesis (which is what this is), by definition, doesn't require the testing to already be done before the idea is put forth.


LoveTheOnesYouNeed
Posted 25 October 2006 at 11:55 am

I hate reading about stuff like this..Although DI people need to die. It's our own arrogance and ego that makes us think that we make the earth spin. I know this sounds rather negative and pessimistic but it's reality if we were meant to live forever we would. Could you imagine walking down the street and bumping into someone who though the world was still flat. A lot of people look at death like it is the end,and it very well could be which should make one appreciate there life...but that's a whole other story.


Scharneeigh
Posted 25 October 2006 at 10:14 pm

Hey lovetheonesyouneed, ever heard of the flat earth society?


Scharneeigh
Posted 25 October 2006 at 10:15 pm

Why do we want to live forever? It's natural to die!


Drakvil
Posted 02 January 2007 at 03:10 am

"Everyone wants to go to the Heaven, but no one wants to die."

Odd how this theory parallels some of the procedures outlined in the book "Holy Fire" by Bruce Sterling.
And he does go into a lot of the mental challenges that people run into with longevity treatments when they have lived well past 100 and many of their friends have died off.


UncertainTeddi
Posted 04 September 2007 at 09:32 pm

Maybe research like this could have implications in field like space travel. Instead of cryogenics NASA could just make astronauts live 10x as long as normal humans, it could open up possibilites of traveling to distant stars that take something like 600 years. Now we just have to figure out how to travel at light speed...


lizdini
Posted 29 March 2008 at 09:39 pm

MisterF said: "There is plenty of room for more people, There is a huge area called outter space it is the final frontier for man. And as far as resources I'm not to concerned about that. There are other alternatives that are being worked on. I really hate living in the stone ages I wish I had been born a few hundred years later."

We can only hope a few hundred years from now will be the future you imagine.


Mostly Harmless
Posted 13 October 2008 at 12:38 am

Funny, but for a guy who thinks he'll live to 2100, in the picture, Aubrey de Grey looks kinda old for 42. Just look at that receding hair line and white hair at the front... What a beard though! You could get lost in that thing!


TheEndofLore
Posted 29 November 2008 at 02:37 pm

I couldn't afford to live forever.


blgrnboy
Posted 19 January 2009 at 12:41 pm

I believe there are many positives in being able to live forever, besides the fear of dying. If you think about it, there are only a few true geniouses that every generation may have in every particular field of study. For example, if Albert Einstein would have been able to live for 1000 years, he may have advanced the sciences of mathematics and physics in such a way, that our generation may have been even more advanced than we already are. I'm not saying that no one is smarter than him in what he did, but every human being has a certain potential, and being able to live a longer time in which you could complete your studies (if it is even feasible), without having to pass it on or leave it and hope that the next so called genious who picks it up has the same potential and rate of acceleration in the study as you do, would advance technology faster, and perhaps improve humanity overall. Also, I completely agree with one of the other comments which stated that although resources are a concern, we may be able to expand the human population into the cosmos and beyond.


Jospec5Star
Posted 24 January 2009 at 01:59 pm

I don't doubt that it is possible to live for a LOT longer however I believe there is good reason we currently max out around 100.

Also, I thought this to be absolutely hilarious for some reason.

His recipe, known as Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), calls for a number of ingredients which do not yet exist.


Chitach
Posted 24 February 2010 at 05:12 am

Here is a translation of this article into Russian: http://chitach.ru/posts/2/


Frank G
Posted 24 February 2010 at 06:30 am

Chitach said: "Here is a translation of this article into Russian: http://chitach.ru/posts/2/"

What a great idea, Chitach.

I could translate the articles in Dutch, do you think it would be appreciated ?

Frank G


lizzie
Posted 11 July 2010 at 01:45 pm

If we are able to prolongue/ pause our lives we were always eventually meant to work out how to do so , if we are not then we weren't. Life is a play ground, I believe that some times we must take a gamble and see where advancements in science may take us.
In addition there are simple ways of reducing popultation size e.g. two children per couple? I personally would love to have more time on this earth, to see what I can achieve with some more time. Maybe this this selfish.
Perhaps minds which have had more years to gain information will have an even better impact on our world today?


lizzie
Posted 11 July 2010 at 01:51 pm

If we are able to prolongue/ pause our lives we were always eventually meant to work out how to do so , if we are not then we weren't. Life is a play ground, I believe that some times we must take a gamble and see where advancements in science may take us.
In addition there are simple ways of reducing popultation size e.g. two children per couple? I personally would love to have more time on this earth, to see what I can achieve with some more time. Maybe this this selfish.
However, I also believe minds which have had more years to gain information will have an even better impact on our world today. In response to the comment about less time forcing us to enjoy our lives more, I am inclined to believe that the shadow of death actually taints the pleasure of life considerabley. The idea that I must always make the most of everything because I will die one day seems hideous and the fear that those around me or my self will die is a constant fear in my mind. Anything which lessens this burden is a possitive in my mind.


Lionizing
Posted 26 July 2010 at 08:52 pm

lizdini said: "MisterF said: “There is plenty of room for more people, There is a huge area called outter space it is the final frontier for man. And as far as resources I’m not to concerned about that. There are other alternatives that are being worked on. I really hate living in the stone ages I wish I had been born a few hundred years later.”
We can only hope a few hundred years from now will be the future you imagine."

Man... we're humans on EARTH for a reason... The EARTH is a certain distance from the sun for a reason, seeing that gravity is generally the reason we've evolved the way we have. You know that in outer space, the only way we could start settling on another planet is if we could find another star that is the exact same size as the Sun and a planet the same distance away from it. Seeing that it's nearly damn impossible to have a human leave this planet's galaxy [set aside the whole concept of going onto another planet] I see no chance of "people who will live to see their 1,000th birthday are already alive today" jumping around to other galaxies and skipping across the universe like barney in a gymnasium.
So i agree with you lizdini, we can only freakin hope, haha.


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