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Machines Like Us

Machines Like Us interviews: Aubrey de Grey

Wednesday, 03 October 2007

Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D., is a controversial biomedical gerontologist who lives in the city of Cambridge, UK. He is editor-in-chief of the academic journal Rejuvenation Research, and his work centers upon a detailed plan called Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), which is aimed at preventing age-related physical and cognitive decline.

He is also the co-founder (with David Gobel) and chief scientist of the Methuselah Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Springfield, Virginia, USA.

A major activity of the Methuselah Foundation is the Methuselah Mouse Prize, a prize designed to accelerate research into effective life extension interventions by awarding monetary prizes to researchers who extend the lifespan of mice to unprecedented lengths. Regarding this, De Grey stated in March, 2005: "if we are to bring about real regenerative therapies that will benefit not just future generations, but those of us who are alive today, we must encourage scientists to work on the problem of aging." The prize reached US$4.2 million in February, 2007.

De Grey believes that once dramatic life extension of already middle-aged mice has been achieved, a large amount of funding will be diverted to this kind of research, which would accelerate progress in doing the same for humans. In his book, Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime, Dr. de Grey and his research assistant Michael Rae describe the details of this biotechnology.

De Grey has been interviewed in recent years in many news sources, including CBS 60 Minutes, BBC, the New York Times, Fortune Magazine, Popular Science, and Technology Review.

Machines Like Us interview conducted by Norm Nason.

MLU: Welcome, Aubrey. I appreciate you joining me.

ADG: My pleasure.

MLU: Before we focus on your efforts to understand and eventually counter the aging process, perhaps we should first say a few words about aging itself. Why do organisms age, and die? Does the process serve some evolutionary purpose -- and if it does, will we run into trouble if we attempt to counteract it?

ADG: The general consensus among biologists who study aging is that aging does not serve any evolutionary purpose, no—that it happens by default. We have plenty of in-built, automatic anti-aging machinery, but perfect anti-aging machinery would be infinitely elaborate, so in practice it's only as good as was needed in the Stone Age to keep us from dying of old age before we died of other hazards like predation and starvation. I agree with this consensus.

MLU: Despite our collective desires and attempts to remain as youthful as possible, for the most part the general public accepts aging and death as being both natural and inevitable. You are the most vocal and articulate spokesman for the current effort to engineer our way out of senescence. What motivates you to believe that now is the time to pour scarce resources into the effort to combat aging?