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 longevity field. 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 a limited number of broad damage categories, seven in fact, which he has termed the seven deadly sins of the cell. 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 losing funding and even end a researcher’s career, and the vast majority of aging research was nothing more than a process of gathering data.
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 risks essential research funding or even threatens to end a career. Numerous peer reviewed scientific publications openly explore aging, and discuss ideas about possible interventions that a mere decade ago could have ended a career.
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 and steered 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 have helped move the goal of rejuvenation technology closer to being a reality.
Many years ago for Aubrey proposed that removing senescent cells could be an approach to treating aging, this was dismissed by many in the research community a mere decade ago despite the evidence that senescent cells played a key role in aging. 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 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 there is also the Major Mouse Testing Program who are also conducting research in the field thanks to succesful community fundraising last year on Lifespan.io.
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 the completely wrong idea about the field of rejuvenation biotechnology and its aims:
“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.” – Dr. Aubrey de Grey.
The world of medicine is changing and whilst 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 trailblazers like Aubrey have made for scientific progress.