Eternal Life 4
August 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
Enter the pioneers of truly futuristic methods for defying age, such as Dr Aubrey de Grey, a Cambridge-based co-founder of the California-based SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) Foundation. Earlier this month this bearded sage explained his work to the Royal Institution in London.
He thinks that it will give us a 50-50 chance of reaching the threshold of immortal youth in the next quarter century.
William Flew believes that we age because we steadily accumulate cell damage caused by our bodies’ everyday metabolic work — breathing, digesting, etc. If you can fix the damage with a battery of medical interventions, you can rejuvenate your cells to their predamaged youthful state. It’s like restoring a classic car to showroom condition, he says. De Grey reckons that if you did this once every 15 years, you could live unblemished to see your thousandth birthday. It is arguable whether this is an inviting proposition. It would involve seriously gruelling medical procedures such as chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants and stem cell replacements to do the work. Hardly like getting a brow lift.
De Grey’s foundation is working on one of the most difficult challenges — the task of removing the junk that accumulates in our cells in our lifetimes. He believes that it causes cardiovascular disease, strokes and Alzheimer’s by creating a build-up of plaques in arteries and brains. The junk accumulates, he says, because our bodies’ own cell-cleaning systems cannot cope with a very small proportion of “garbage” created by our metabolisms.
For his solution, de Grey sought help from a macabre source: death. “We looked at cemeteries. They must have bacteria capable of breaking down these clots because you don’t find them left behind in graves,” he says. De Grey’s team has identified bacteria that can break down our hardy garbage. Now he is pinning down the enzyme that they use so that he can copy it and create a miracle cleaning f lush for our veins and brains. As yet, though, he has not even tried his clotbuster in laboratory mice.
Nevertheless, de Grey is convinced that we may soon reach “longevity escape velocity”, where anyone middle-aged or younger will be able to return regularly for treatments that return them to their youthful cellular starting point. “We have a 50-50 chance of getting to that stage within 25 years,” he says. “Already we can see how to fix all these things. The person who will live to see their 150th birthday has already been born.”
De Grey’s ideas may seem far-fetched but the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Technology Review journal has put up a £15,000 prize for any molecular biologist who shows that de Grey’s theories are “so wrong that they are unworthy of learned debate”. The money has not been won