A New Definition of Aging May be Needed

Aubrey de Grey

Aubrey de Grey

Aubrey de Grey is a storied British scientist who has devoted his career to ending aging.  He has written a fairly popular book aimed at the layperson called Ending Aging in 2007 in which he outlines seven techniques he believes will be necessary to develop in order to reverse aging.  These are called Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS). From there he formed the SENS Foundation which among other things raises money for research on the SENS components.

de Grey works tirelessly to raise awareness and acceptance of the idea that aging may be reversible though technology, but is frequently met with skepticism, incredulity and even contempt.  Many people think reversing or stopping aging is impossible, unethical, or immoral and should not even be attempted.

He laments in a new essay published in Rejuvenation Research, which he edits, that there is so little interest in reversing aging that very inadequate amounts of money is being spent on the research.  He writes:

At present, translational biogerontology (alternatively, biomedical gerontology) commands an absolutely minuscule proportion of the medical research budget of any industrialised nation. Why? Simply because the idea that postponing aging is a feasible and valuable goal, both socially and economically, has failed – despite the best efforts of many biogerontologists over many decades – to gain any significant traction among funding bodies.

He feels we may need a new definition for aging, and that such a definition may help to broaden appeal and through that funding.

DeGrey’s new proposed definition:

Aging is the set of processes that progressively reduce the time before the individual is likely to suffer a permanent loss of physical or mental capacity

I do agree the concept of slowing, stopping or even reversing aging needs a new PR campaign.  After all who really wouldn’t want to live limitlessly, youthfully and free from disease?

Will this new definition help?  Hard to say, but anything that we can do to improve the message is direly needed.  Rarely (maybe never) do I call for comments here, but if you are reading this post let us know in the comments what you think needs to be done to move the needle to end aging.

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9 Responses to “A New Definition of Aging May be Needed”

  1. David Sander says:

    I am a Sydney-based film maker and am developing a screenplay for a movie that discusses this very issue. The story revolves around an individual who, thanks to technological developments, is permitted to be revived into a youthful form when he reaches a certain level of ageing, again and again and again, essentially granting him immortality. With each regeneration his memories and personality are unaffected, and the story revolves around how he addresses living without fearing death (a major defining factor in the lives of most living things); his psychological development; and the impact he and his colleagues have on the world around them. The script is far from complete, as I am constantly seeking research materials on a topic which has scant research online at the best of times. Maybe I should have a chat with Dr de Grey…

  2. Nick says:

    You should definitely talk with Aubrey de Grey. He should help you a lot, not only with materials, but also with the screenplay. A movie showing that defeating aging is not a bad thing will help the advocacy he’s so involved in.

  3. Martin O'Dea says:

    Just an observation David Sander – the notion of rejuvenation technologies or treatments, and immortality are often erroneously conflated. I believe this does not help the cause of appreciating and then funding this work.
    The gentleman you describe has not attained immortality, and may be killed by a whole array of toxins, accidents etc. The notion of immortality strikes people with fear as its origins in religion and mythology proposes an impossible guarantee of future (it is often presented as a curse in popular culture — her curse is she can’t die). All these efforts (of Aubrey and many others) are directed to the most basic of desires, self-preservation. It is a struggle that has driven medicine and a whole host of diseases would have been seen as natural things not to be interfered with at some point in the past. Even in the distant future as infomorphs we could have a galactic neighbour go supernova, and so the immortality word is misplaced I think.

    ps if I was a playwright I would trowel these materials. Must be incredibly exciting for arts also.Truth really is stranger than fiction!

  4. u976415 says:

    You should also talk with Reason at fightaging.org

    and David Kekich at MaxLife.org

    and Tom Mooney at Coalitiontoextendlife.org

  5. steve says:

    Well I’m not quite so pessimistic – I feel this is bubbling beneath the surface very well. In philosophy now magazine I’ve witnessed the subject of ending aging raised a couple of times – containing several articles; there have been 3 ted talks where the issue has been raised and also in scientific america, this christmas just gone – the view was taken that in a hundred years our lives may seem very short to future generations.

    The most obvious parties might be interested in funding research:

    billionaires: these seem, in theory, the most fruitful of leads. The utility of huge portions of their wealth is pretty low: $100 million won’t alter their quality of life, yet research gained from that investment might yield them considerable personal gains. It would seem irrational not to invest given the potential rewards and given the very low impact denial of said funds would impart on their life. But I suspect many for many of these people, to not invest, is an irrational decision they aren’t aware they’re taking: they’re simply not cognisant of it, or dismiss it without further thought and are simply too busy.

    Governments: Unfortunately governments are short-termists; I can’t see responses in this area unless the public demand it and so a vote-winner or the politicians deem it to be in their own self interests.

    pharmaceuticals – one would expect it to be more profitable to treat the diseases of aging then to prevent them.

    Aubrey de grey: if the new definition is designed to garner public support then i believe it will fall short; but to galvanise the scientists? I don’t know. To my mind this definition simply illustrates what everyone already knows once they think about it . A philospoher could have written this 2,000 years ago, which isn’t to decry the statement, but it doesn’t capture our current understandings of the processes of aging or our anticipated ability to do engineer a solution. Would it excite a shift in the thinking of the civilians of ‘the fable of the dragon tyrant’, for example.

    I feel greater need to accelerate the process of devolving our entrenched belief as age being strictly chronological and see it as biological. The work performed by Cynthia Kenyon will help shift this viewpoint. We see age as biological, controlled by our genes, governed by a master switch in the form of a hormone receptor IGF-1 which can be suppressed and slow down aging. The first step for it to be seen as a controllable process – so if for example, we can show that through drugs we can age one in year in two this would be sufficient to create a paradigm shift amongst the masses to spawn greater understanding, desire and so investment.

    Aubrey de grey is brilliant, eccentric, no-nonsense, very different and rather a cult figure. When you are asking people (the general population) to change the worldview so drastically, not without a dose of discomfort, it helps if they can buy-in to the person , comfortably, and not find reason to reject the messenger – I’m not sure the majority will. The pm for example having a photo shot outside downing street with AdG in his t-shirt and jeans would seem a bit of a gamble. That said, I certainly wouldn’t under estimate him, he is an authentic – I could certainly be wrong.

    Cynthia Kenyon, despite being a potential nobel prize winner, portrays the girl or the lady-next door: a character people would feel they relate to, understand, whose views are likely to be fair, reasonable, non-imposing but well thought out on most subjects. As such we likely to become more accepting, trusting of her attempts to initiate a change in our worldview.

    Finally, I would like to say your site is excellent, your work tireless – I will look forward to trawling through all of your posts. However, one criticism: I wouldn’t have titled your site extreme longevity, it signals, I feel, largely to the converted and perhaps would attract the masses.

    I would say that the appeal of ‘extreme longevity’ to most folk is not a pleasant one, nor does it convey what this site is about. Living to a very old age is a rather dilapidated state is an image that few people will savour and one likely to be conjured when contemplating said title – most people fear old age and to spend a greater portion of their life in it and in a diminishing state of health is not appealing. Being 80, while say biologically 65 is another matter altogether. I would imagine that a book entitled ‘extending youthspan’ or ‘delaying the aging process’ would sell much better than ‘extreme longevity’. The subject is about being better in the now and at every stage of your life than you otherwise would be, hill walking when you’re in your nineties say, with the prospect of a cure to aging if you’re lucky: I feel this is conveyed by the content of your blog, but not it’s title.

    Naturally, others may think very differently, as indeed I might, but this represents my current unextensively researched view!

    Good luck and keep up the excellent work.

  6. steve says:

    I feel, largely to the converted and perhaps ‘wouldn’t’ attract the masses.

    Apologies for the formatting.

  7. Edouard says:

    why such a new definition of aging exactly?
    In the text above, I fail to find a good reason. could it be related to an increase possibility for the pharmaceutical industry to get money from geroprotectors, therefore creating a whole new area of health business?

  8. Nell says:

    If aging is only wrinkles and dry skin, I won’t mind so much. What I don’t like about getting old is that “permanent loss of physical and mental capacity”.

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