January 31, 2014
SENS stands for the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, a research and development plan first assembled more than a decade ago by biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey. This was a work of vision and synthesis: taking decades of research results from many diverse fields of medical research whose scientists had comparatively little contact with one another, and little interest in working on ways to treat aging, and pulling these results together into a convincing argument as to (a) which forms of cellular and molecular damage cause aging, and (b) how to go about developing the means of repair for this damage.
Aging is damage, and repair is rejuvenation. Sufficiently comprehensive implementations of SENS should not only prevent aging and age-related disease, but also reverse the effects of aging in the old. This isn’t a matter of hand-waving: the capabilities in molecular biology and research plans to build therapies are outlined in considerable detail at the SENS Research Foundation website and in related scientific papers. You should take a look if you haven’t recently. The estimated cost of developing this to the point of demonstration in mice is on a par with the total cost of development of a single drug: perhaps $1-2 billion over 10-20 years.
It is pleasing to chart the changing character of press coverage over the years for SENS rejuvenation research and its figurehead advocate and organizer Aubrey de Grey. In the past ten years of increasing support within the scientific community and an influx of millions of dollars in philanthropic funding for research, it has become ever harder for journalists to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that SENS is either fringe or not real science. The gatekeepers of the establishment are never kind to any form of change or progress in the early days.
Measured by budget the SENS Research Foundation is a presently a tenth of the size of the well-established and mainstream Buck Institute for Aging Research. This is still larger than a good many labs in the field, and funding for SENS research has grown considerably over the past few years. Skilled molecular biologists in numerous laboratories are working on aspects of the SENS program of development for rejuvenation therapies. This work is still at the level of building tools and foundations for later progress, but it is very much real, tangible medical research. This is a new and upcoming field, the future of medical science and aging.
Aubrey de Grey: Out to Defy Death
Spend a moment asking yourself, “What is the world’s worst problem?”
Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D., has an answer that may be radically different from yours. For him, it’s aging, and he not only makes a convincing case for why this is so, but he’s devoting his life to doing something about it. Dr. de Grey is the founder of SENS, a research foundation that aims to help build the regenerative medicine industry, an industry that arguably has the best chance for curing the diseases of aging. Surprisingly, he’s having more success than the people who were calling him a maverick and a heretic five years ago ever imagined.
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. To my eyes, things have made it to the early stages of the winning part of that saying these days, certainly insofar as the scientific community is concerned. (Much more remains to be done in order to sell the public on the idea that radical life extension is a real possibility and that the relevant research is important and should be supported.) SENS is far more than Aubrey de Grey nowadays: it’s his vision, but has grown to be shared quite widely. There are dozens of influential allied scientists and laboratories, a number of high-net-worth philanthropists providing support, many advocates, a SENS Research Foundation staff, fundraisers, and, of course, the numerous researchers working to build the tools needed for future rejuvenation treatments.
The SENS Foundation is a public charity based in California, and its purpose is to fill a niche in the research funding chain. Private sector research, particularly in the drug industry, has funds to drive important research, but only after it’s clear that the odds of success are good, the time frame is reasonably short, and the potential for profit large. At the other end of the research spectrum, public sector research funding is available for basic research that doesn’t have an immediate commercial purpose.
However, in Dr. de Grey’s view, and his colleagues’ as well, there’s a midway point between the private sector funding and the public sector, and this midpoint is often neglected. Research that may yield incalculable commercial success (and public benefit as well), may be at such an early stage of development that it doesn’t yet attract commercial funders. “We exist to make sure that this kind of intermediate research is not neglected,” he says.
People no longer refer to Aubrey de Grey as a “maverick” or “heretic.” “These days, I’m more often called ‘controversial,'” he says, sounding pleased with this new characterization.
“Controversial,” after all can be translated as, “might be right.”
Reason is the founder of The Longevity Meme (now Fight Aging!). He saw the need for The Longevity Meme in late 2000, after spending a number of years searching for the most useful contribution he could make to the future of healthy life extension. When not advancing the Longevity Meme or Fight Aging!, Reason works as a technologist in a variety of industries.
This work is reproduced here in accord with a Creative Commons Attribution license. It was originally published on FightAging.org.