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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2004

Aubrey de Grey, University of Cambridge, UK


Aubrey de Grey was born on 20 April 1963 in London, England. He obtained his undergraduate degree in computer science and his Ph.D. in gerontology, both from the University of Cambridge, where he still works. Dr. de Grey is the Editor-in-Chief of Rejuvenation Research, the world's only peer-reviewed journal focused specifically on reversal (repair) of the molecular and cellular changes that accumulate throughout life and eventually give rise to frailty, disease and death. He is also an associate editor of Mitochondrion and the Journal of Evolution and Technology and an editorial board member of AGE, the journal of the American Aging Association. He serves on the board of directors of the British Society for Research on Aging, the American Aging Association and the International Association of Biomedical Gerontology. His contributions to the field have been recognised by Fellowship of the Gerontological Society of America and by the World Transhumanist Association's H.G. Wells award for outstanding contributions to transhumanism (the expansion of human potential through technology). Dr. de Grey's work in gerontology over the past decade has progressed from a traditional theoretician's role (formulation of new explanations for paradoxical data), through an engineer's role (the identification of novel biotechnological approaches to the repair of various types of age-related pathogenic damage) to that of a provocateur (critiquing the oversights and dogmatism of the biogerontology establishment). He has published extensively in all these areas, with over 20 first-author papers in peer-reviewed journals in the past eight years. His major interests are the aspects of aging in which existing research falls furthest short of what will be needed for comprehensive repair of age-related damage: mutations in the mitochondrial DNA, indigestible aggregates in the lysosome, and cancer. He also publishes and speaks regularly on the social context of radical life extension and humanityës duty to hasten it by more intervention-focused research.


The foreseeability of real anti-aging medicine

Unlike most of society, biogerontologists are generally keen to see aging combated as thoroughly as soon as possible. When it comes to translating that view into effective action, however, our record is not impressive. Prominent biogerontologists enjoy exposure in national media that only a tiny minority of other scientists can attract, yet the insatiable public interest in our research has not resulted in comparable public funding. This may largely be due to our reluctance to reconsider a presentational policy that has failed us for 50 years (namely, emphasis on the biomedical pipe-dream termed 'compression of morbidity' and pretence that our work holds no 'risk' of extreme life extension). Recently we have been committing an even more inexcusable failure, lamentably common in science but no less reprehensible for that: to critique in public, in detail, each other's ideas for combating aging. Only by surviving such scrutiny will any of our proposals achieve enough credibility to attract the funds needed to realise them, so this reticence hurts us all. It prevails for the obvious reasons: successfully challenging one's colleagues' views risks revenge next time they review one's grant application, and doing so unsuccessfully exposes one's own ignorance or carelessness. Silence, by contrast, allows one's views to persist unchallenged indefinitely, which increasingly transforms them from objective opinions into articles of dogmatic faith. Biogerontology is perhaps the field in which this is most reprehensible, given the mind-numbing scale of the deaths for which aging (and, thus, any delay in combating aging) is responsible. Put simply, to place careerist or egoist considerations ahead of our duty to expedite healthy life-extending interventions is an act of self-serving folly that society will not easily forgive when success finally arrives. The greatest absolute life extension hitherto achieved in different species by caloric restriction (CR) or related methods is almost independent of their control lifespan. This fact starkly undermines the currently fashionable extrapolation from rodent CR to predictions of a ~20-year human life extension from foreseeable CR-emulating drugs, and instead predicts a maximum benefit of only 2-3 years – as I have recently argued in depth, in print. My detailed proposal – now four years old – to combat aging not by the 'holistic' approach exemplified by CR, but instead by taking aging apart and repairing each type of cellular or molecular 'damage' independently, has not been reciprocally critiqued, even though several prominent colleagues have publicly endorsed it. I contend that we have an urgent and overwhelming duty to set aside our egos and debate the feasibility of specific approaches to the combating of humanity's foremost remaining scourge.

Presentation (PPT)