Defeating aging: Aubrey de Grey's handbook

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British biogerontologist, computer scientist and twice TED speaker Aubrey de Grey has just finished a book, "Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime", where he details his controversial claim that "we could defeat aging".

Cheat sheet: Aubrey went on stage at TEDGLOBAL05 (video) and then at TED06 saying (I’m oversimplifying) that aging, like a disease, can be cured; that it is essentially a set of accumulating molecular and cellular transformations in our bodies, caused by metabolism, that eventually lead to pathology and kill us. Therefore, it could be approached "as an engineering problem": identify all the components of the variety of processes that cause tissues to age, and design remedies for each of them. He calls the approach "Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence" (SENS).

The book, co-written with his assistant Michael Rae, will be released September 4 by St Martin’s Press. We e-mailed with Aubrey last week.

Aubrey, are you feeling older than last year?

Not really — and that’s despite the fact that my schedule has become even more punishing.  I think the fulfilment I derive from spearheading the push to save so many lives somehow gives me the vitality to cope.

How has your research progressed since your TEDGLOBAL05 and TED06 speeches?

The Methuselah Foundation has gone from strength to strength. The biggest development, among other donations, was the pledge of $3.5m from TEDster and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, which resulted from a dialogue that began at TED. Most of his pledge ($3m of it) is a 1:2 challenge, so our current goal is to obtain $6m from elsewhere to match that pledge in full.

OK, that’s about the funding. But how’s the research going?

It’s been going really well too. We are currently sponsoring research by three  teams (in Phoenix, Houston and Cambridge UK) on two of the most important SENS strands — LysoSENS, the identification and exploitation of microbial enzymes to break down molecules that we cannot naturally degrade, and MitoSENS, the incorporation of modified copies of the mitochondrial DNA into the chromosomal DNA so that mitochondrial mutations will  have no effect. Both these projects are going really well, results coming out of the LysoSENS project have already been presented at two meetings and a paper has been submitted for publication in a prominent journal.

What should readers expect to learn from the book?

They will learn all about the detailed science of SENS. The book is written (largely by my splendid research assistant Michael Rae) very much for a non-scientist audience, but without dumbing down the science at all.