For many of you reading this article, Dr. Aubrey de Grey needs little or no introduction. However, for those less well acquainted with his work, he is one of the most prominent scientists in the field of rejuvenation biotechnology.
More than fifteen years ago, Aubrey took up the challenge of persuading the aging research community that aging was something in which medical science could and should intervene. Aubrey discovered plenty of evidence to show that aging is caused by seven broad damage categories, which he has termed the seven deadly things.
Yet, that evidence was mostly ignored by the research community at the time, while scientific discussion about the treatment of aging in public could risk a loss of funding and even end a researcher’s career, and the vast majority of aging research was nothing more than a process of gathering data.
No longer a taboo
However, thanks to iconoclasts like Dr. de Grey, this situation has changed over the last few years. Discussions among researchers are now concerned with how aging can be treated, not if it can be treated.
Public discussion of the subject is no longer a seen as a taboo that can cause loss of funding or a career. Numerous peer reviewed scientific publications openly explore aging and discuss ideas about possible interventions that a mere decade ago were dismissed as impossible.
This radical change was to a great extent due to the work of scientists, such as Aubrey, and the efforts of advocates within the community who have patiently worked to change the popular view, steering the conversation towards considering aging as something we can do something about.
Aubrey created and leads the SENS Research Foundation, an organization that, along with its parent non-profit foundation Methuselah, has helped move the goal of rejuvenation technology closer to being a reality.
The tide is turning
Many years ago, Aubrey proposed that removing senescent cells could be an approach to treating aging. This idea was dismissed by many people in the research community only a decade ago, despite the evidence that senescent cells played a key role in aging.
Now, this has changed, and therapies to clear senescent cells from old tissues have been demonstrated to improve health and even increase lifespan in mouse studies, and three biotech companies, Unity Biotechnology, Oisin Biotechnologies and Cellage, are working on bringing these treatments to the clinic.
In addition to these groups, Major Mouse Testing Program is also conducting research in the field, thanks to successful community fundraising last year on Lifespan.io, and is exploring the effects of senolytics on stem cell populations.
Dr. de Grey is often accused of encouraging fanciful ideas about living forever and immortality, something that dogs his every step and has for the last decade or more. In fact, Aubrey is far more grounded in reality and actual science. He is not a fan of the word “immortality”, because it gives a completely wrong idea about the field of rejuvenation biotechnology and its aims, as he explains:
“The first thing I want to do is get rid of the use of this word ‘immortality’, because it’s enormously damaging, it is not just wrong, it is damaging. It means zero risk of death from any cause—whereas I just work on one particular cause of death, namely aging. It is also a distraction; it causes people to think this whole quest is morally ambiguous and technologically fanciful.”
The world of medicine is changing, and while it has been an uphill battle to bring about a change in how we view and treat age-related diseases, the tide has finally began to turn, and we should remember the contribution that trailblazers such as Dr. Aubrey de Grey have made for scientific progress.