Friday, October 29, 2010

Aubrey de Grey Interview in

Aubrey de Grey's life extension diet emphasizes the importance of beer.
Aubrey de Grey's life extension diet emphasizes the importance of beer.

One of my favourite people in the world, the British gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, recently did an interview with Wired Science (link). If you've read his interviews before, you pretty much know what to expect, but there were a couple of new things in there that I found interesting (he's swearing, for one thing).

The gist of Aubrey de Grey's work is keeping people healthy indefinitely. You can call this unlimited healthspans or radical life extension or rejuvenation therapies or whatever, but the idea remains the same: to cure the biological process of progressive deterioration known as aging. For most people, the word "immortality" still has something of a negative connotation. This has not gone unnoticed by de Grey:

I’ve been out there represented as an immortality merchant since forever. These days, I can afford to not just acquiesce and let journalists use phrases like “immortality,” or at least not in the title of the bloody ass thing.

The reason he doesn't like titles like "Aubrey de Grey is here to make you immortal" is because it makes biogerontology sound like science fiction; something that a handful of people are working on in their garage. The public is apparently not ready for immortality.

And yet there are a growing number of people in the world who are ready to live longer and healthier lives. To any reasonable person, the word "immortality" is a positive thing, as long as one understands what the concept of biological immortality means. What it doesn't mean is that you'll be hurling through space long after the earth has been destroyed in a nuclear war, unable to die. It also doesn't mean that you'll be able to survive getting hit by a truck (although if it did, that would be a positive thing too).

What biological immortality means is that the chronological progress of time no longer dictates when and how you die. Your health will no longer be a simple function of time. Your body will remain youthful and vigorous regardless of how old you are. You can still die – certainly so if you want to die for some reason – but it won't be because of your body deteriorating every year. How this is a bad thing to some people has been beyond me for quite some time now.

The first step in solving the problem of aging will be done in mice. From there on, says Aubrey de Grey, it'll be smooth sailing:

What’s going to happen is the curmudgeons — the card-carrying gerontologists who think it’s very dangerous to be over-optimistic — will eventually recognize the data available to us from mice is so solid we can go out publicly and say, “It’s only a matter of time.” That’s going to take a panel of interventions in mice that’s so comprehensive we actually add two whole years to the lifespan of mice that are already in middle age before we start.

That may be overcautious. We may be able to get gerontologists on board with a more modest result than that. However, at that point, game over. My job will be done. I can retire. Because that will be the point when Oprah will be all over it and the following day it will become impossible to get elected unless you have a manifesto commitment to have a war on aging.

I agree with de Grey. People like Oprah have such a big influence on public opinion that it's ridiculous. I can even imagine someone being very pro-aging before hearing someone like Oprah promoting it, and then changing their mind completely. Once you get the public behind the idea, you'll get the politicians as well. Not that I give a damn about influencing politicians – without all the bureacracy and regulations in the field of medicine, I bet we'd already made a much larger progress in rejuvenation therapies! I'd rather take care of my own health than put it in the hands of any government official.

Another crucial point about people like Oprah: they have a lot of money. And since people with lots of money tend to be interested in preserving their wealth, it makes sense that the same people are also interested in preserving their health. After all, what's the point of having billions of dollars if you're not going to be around to enjoy them?

One thing that de Grey has not really commented on before is how come he doesn't get massive donations from aging billionaires. Some of them have already made plans to cryopreserve themselves, but if you have the chance to stick around without spending five decades in an ice box, why not do that instead? The biggest reason seems to be that billionaires haven't taken the organizations seriously enough: For most of the billionaire philanthropists that travel in the same circles you do, out of the three things, is it mainly that they just don’t like your organization?

de Grey: I think for a very large, a very sufficient proportion of such people, yes, it’s that third thing. Because I see these people a lot. I go to TED, and there’s no holding back when it comes to 1) the desirability of the goal, and 2) the demonstration of sufficient comprehension of what I’m talking about to understand they believe the plan is feasible. So yes, absolutely.

In other words, there's a lack of professionalism, not necessarily in what the organizations actually do but in how people view them. The Methuselah Foundation is a case in point:

In the beginning, the only thing the Methuselah Foundation did was the longevity prizes for mice. Then, we started funding research directly. We thought it was a really cool idea to have one organization with two very complementary approaches to the same mission. But in fact, it didn’t really work, especially not in terms of messaging.

The foundation has now been split into two, one for prizes and one for funding research. Hopefully this will attract more investors. Besides business and funding, Aubrey talks about some personal things as well. And his love of beer, of course:

I drink exactly the right amount of beer evidently. [laughs] It’s ridiculous, really. Yet, I have to show I’m enjoying my life. It’s public knowledge I am polyamorous as well. That’s something that goes down not so well with some of my more politically sensitive friends and colleagues. But it goes quite well with some other people. [laughs]

Polyamorous, huh? He even goes to say that the whole monogamy thing is "archaic" and will probably be a thing of the past some time in the future. I didn't know de Grey was against monogamy, but I happen to agree. I think the whole concept of jealousy is an unnecessary biological impulse that was useful in the past but will no longer be needed in the future. It certainly isn't a product of the rational side of the brain.

I guess contrarians tend to have a lot in common. When you start to question the official truth in one area, you begin to wonder about other obvious truths as well. I'm sure you've noticed the disproportionate amount of libertarians among the paleo crowd, for example. In many cases it boils down to questioning whether government really knows best.

For some reason, the paleo community is still mostly stuck in the "aging is good" dogma, however. They're determinately against diabetes, obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and every other modern plague, and yet they are unwilling to strike the problem at the root.

Basically, they want to live healthy for 80 years and drop dead. To me that's nonsensical. What's your opinion?

For more information on longevity and aging, see these posts:

Russian Scientist Claims to Have Found Cure for Aging
How Do People Feel about Life Extension?
Aubrey de Grey in Helsinki, Finland
Why Aging Is a Global Disaster That Needs to Be Solved

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20 kommenttia:

Maharishi October 30, 2010 at 3:25 PM  

Thanks for another interesting post. I can't understand why anyone's against healthy life extension, but human's are funny things. 'What's the matter, are you afraid of death?' they say. 'No, but I enjoy life, don't you?' is my reply. As societies mature then birth rates fall so it's possible, given that people will still die via accidents, uncured diseases and/or suicide/euthenasia, the population will still stay within supportable limits. Hell, you never know, maybe politicians would even have to stop running up deficits if they could no longer pass them onto the next generation. It might improve human behaviour in many ways if they knew they'd be around a lot longer into the future to face the consequences of their actions.

JLL October 30, 2010 at 6:00 PM  


There's nothing wrong with being afraid of death. I'm afraid of death. Every sane person is afraid of death, if there is even a small chance of avoiding death. What could be worse than vanishing into oblivion forever? That's what I ask people who claim they're not afraid of death.

Long-lived politicians won't have to face the consequences of their actions, since they're in office for only a few years usually. Waiting for politicians to stop making stupid decisions... now that makes waiting for immortality seem pretty reasonable! ;)


Jake October 30, 2010 at 11:04 PM  

If life extension means I look as unhealthy at 80 as De Grey looks now at 47, please kill me on my 80th birthday.

Sandy November 2, 2010 at 8:05 PM  


"What could be worse than vanishing into oblivion forever?"

I think that depends on whether or not you subscribe to the idea (illusion) that you have a 'self' which is capable of vanishing or dieing in the first place.

No self= nothing there to vanish= nothing to worry about!

I think the point about politicians (the criminal ones) being impotent due to term limits is a double edge sword in many ways. They can still do damage from outside public office by continuing their involvement in the political scene (Newt Gingrich for example).

Then again, if Bush and co were to live much longer there's a greater chance of organizing an arrest warrant =p

De Grey should reconsider his beer love- think about all that gluten!

JLL November 2, 2010 at 8:14 PM  


Well, personally I happen to subscribe to the idea of a "self", so I'm worried. I also have friends who believe in reincarnation; for them death is probably not a big issue either.


Nalle November 3, 2010 at 12:36 AM  

I fail to see how anyone in their right mind could think 100 years of life (if lucky) to be enough? That is just crazy! In that time we barely even have a chance to scratch the surface of all that life on this planet has to offer. And what about other planets? Other worlds? Heck, I want to see the universe! And then maybe I want to see it again!

Sandy November 5, 2010 at 10:17 AM  

"I also have friends who believe in reincarnation; for them death is probably not a big issue either."

sounds like it could be a fate worse than death....

and in related news the world's oldest person just died at 114

aside from her skygod conviction, I wonder sustained her? would be nice to find some details about her daily menu.

JLL November 6, 2010 at 2:11 PM  


The diets of supercentenarians are pretty varied, I don't see much connections between them. Some drink wine, some eat chocolate, some eat eggs, some smoke, some drink coffee, some drink tea... only thing in common is that none of them are vegetarians.

Most likely it's just lucky genes.

US_Taxpayer November 7, 2010 at 5:51 PM  

Hi JLL - a bit off topic - but have you seen this study which has recently hit the U.S. media?

Do you think this study carries any weight, or are they giving us false hope?

JLL November 8, 2010 at 1:27 PM  


The study is moderately interesting, but it is nonetheless only a study on roundworms. And as we've seen in earlier studies, pretty much anything extends the lifespan of roundworms.

Their "proof" that it should work on humans is that other species have the same genes and glucose/insulin as well. But that's not proof at all. In fact, the evidence suggests that it *doesn't* increase the lifespan in more complex species, e.g. mice.

Low-carb studies in rodents haven't translated to longer lifespans, and I think there was even one mouse study where they cut back on carbs but left protein and fat intake at normal levels, and still they didn't live any longer. All in all, my current understanding is that calorie restriction + protein restriction is the optimal combination for life extension; whether CR without protein restriction works, I'm still not sure.

And they're kind of mixing apples and oranges in this study, on the one hand talking about all carbs and on the hand talking about removing bad carbs like bread and pasta from the diet. I'm all for removing grain products and such, but to say that cutting back on bananas makes you live longer is, well, probably a big lie.


chuprin January 17, 2012 at 5:14 AM  

Dear Aubrey!
Your company SENS foundation working to develop artificial organs. OK. It is justified for internal organs when the organ is not working and the organism dies. But the external organ, our skin that will eventually wear out and destroyed the organism can repair and rejuvenate itself. If it has our help. But this unfortunately no one does. And if you do, first rejuvenate the old skin and internal organs will rejuvenate, and the entire body. I tried to convey this message to you, but to no avail. There are no any aging programs in our organism. No genes of aging, there are no limits on life span. The organism can work the century, if it gets the right service. Skin combines the internal organs in one organism, feeds them and its destruction (visible to the naked eye) causes senile disease of internal organs and death of the organism. As for the old oil filter stops the motor vehicle. It is easy to understand. Sorry you do not understand this. The skin is the lungs, and kidneys, and external brain and nervous system. Its destruction leads to the death of the entire body. It is our death. It is very desirable rejuvenation of the old man to begin with its rejuvenation of the old dilapidated skin. It's easier and cheaper and more effective, and tested by medicine.
Best regards, Valery Chuprin

Jay February 6, 2013 at 6:12 AM  

To the person who said no centerians are vegetarian, read up on the Indian marathon runner Fauja Singh. I have heard of a few other 90 plus years olds who are vegetarian over the years.

Outside India, probably less then 2 percent of people are vegetarians. When you look at centerians, this percent might be even lower, since vegetarianism has only become significant since the 1960s.

Mark May 5, 2013 at 3:47 AM  

Chuprin, I completely disagree with what you are saying. You are saying that by rejuvenating the skin, the body for some magical reason will heal itself? This is not proven and it is illogical to believe this to be true. Skin is an organ just as are all the other ones, and it ages as well, but it isn't the almighty organ that dictates how old you are. It will age due to Aubreys 7 causes, and yes you can die if you get skin cancer, but you can also die if you get lung cancer. All of your body must be treated against aging. By just treating the skin, you have only solved one of the problems. And if you did not know, skin is one of the easier tissues to engineer, seeing as it is very simple to create. This has already been done, contrary to what you have just said:"But this unfortunately no one does".
Comment on where you are obtaining these sources. My sources for what I am telling you is from Aubreys' book, which I have to say makes complete sense. Also chuprin, please write proper English because in order to discuss matters, communication has to be clear between both ends.

Anonymous October 8, 2013 at 6:58 PM  

The poster of this is clearly in line with De Grey's utilization of the Pseudoscience Framework.

Stagnation: Where is De Grey's work progressed since it's conception?

Appeal to uplifting beliefs: Of course we all want to live longer than nature allows.

Incoherence: Several studies, leading scientific figures have pointed out the flaws in his leaping from one possibility leading to fact.

Appeal to simplicity and certainty: De Grey's use of acronyms and seven "deadly" causes of aging.

Defense: Reversed burdens of proof. As proven in the Technology Review debacle, De Grey relished in the fact that no winner was chosen. "If they can't prove me wrong, I must be right" mentality.

For those who want to follow up by those issues presented in the Technology Review debate:

You will easily see that his theories are just that, unable to be proven through a variety of reasons. Please don't say it's a lack of funding.

However, the real danger to society is this perfect example of pseudoscience. This will lead to the downfall of science and encourage more and more to return to their religious beliefs and undisputable beliefs not grounded in facts, evidence, and proven experiments.

chuprin June 19, 2014 at 10:21 PM  

Ok Mark,
You agree that our skin is independant organ.
Known, diesease of one organ can cause diesese or even death of entire body. That is what we have now.
The skin of an old man is sick. It does not function properly - weak skin breathing, inadequate displays products of metabolism, body protection and so is the fact. I believe it is necessary to treat this old and dieseased skin, to restore its young functions and structures.
From this it is necessary to start the fight with aging.
Sorry for my English. It is not my native language.

chuprin May 8, 2015 at 3:51 AM  

Aging is not biological, genetic or medical process. This is natural process of weakening of chemical reactions that we call life. Biology is only a small part of the natural Sciences. This is why the best genetics and biologists cannot solve these natural phenomena - they ignore the laws of nature, looking for something, not knowing what to look for. This continues for many decades. People are waiting for the solution and die. But this deadly problem has been solved - a man can live without the restrictions of time and get a young and attractive body. A healthy organism has enough power to make its old body young again.

chuprin June 1, 2015 at 4:52 AM  

Dear colleagues,
David Rockefeller, 99 years old, hopes to live up to 200 years. What about you? You can stop this horror of old age and death as result. Our theory of aging says, healthy organism can rejuvenate its old body and person can live young without time limit.
Please see:
Valery Chuprin

chuprin June 7, 2015 at 6:30 AM  

“ What happens when Queen Elizabeth II dies – Business Insider…”
“Her Majesty The Queen can live young with no time limit and never die.” – Valery Chuprin

Dear colleagues, here's the proof: Human organism consists of many internal organs and one external. Known, a person can die if one of these organs is terminally ill, poorly functioning or not functioning at all. A man can die young or old. He dies young, if his internal organ is terminally ill. He dies “old”, if the outer organ functions inadequately bad. In this case, the outer organ is the cause of death and it should be treated from its dysfunctions, debility, degeneration, and dystrophy.
Please see

chuprin November 12, 2015 at 3:18 AM  

Why Queen Elizabeth II (89), David Rockefeller (99), George H.W. Bush(91), Jimmy Carter(91), and other worthy old people have to die, if they can rejuvenate own old body and live young with no time limit?!

Aubrey de Grey and SENS Foundation, Arthur Levinson and Calico, David Gobel and Methuselah Foundation, and other Aging Fighters. Why are they losers so far? Their fundamental mistakes.

The explanation here

Chuprin November 13, 2015 at 3:24 AM  

TIME| Google's Calico: the War on Aging Has Truly Begun By Aubrey de Grey Sept. 18, 2013

CNN| How Google's Calico aims to fight aging and 'solve death’ By Arion McNicoll October 3, 2013

MIT| Google to Try to Solve Death, LOL Antonio Regalado September 18, 2013

(So such an encouraging beginning! Two years have passed. Result?! Nothing!!!)

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