How to end ageing with Aubrey de Grey
The godfather of longevity joins us to share his expert insight on ending ageing.
Dr Aubrey de Grey is perhaps the world's foremost advocate of the provocative view that medical technology will one day allow humans to control the ageing process and live healthily into our hundreds—or even thousands.
De Grey has been arguing that immortality is theoretically possible since his first book, ‘The Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging’, published in 1999. He's since founded the nonprofit SENS, the world’s first organization dedicated to “curing” human ageing, not just age-related illnesses.
In this episode of the Braincare podcast, Dr Aubrey de Grey shared with us his expert insight into all things to do with this so-called “inevitable” process.
What ageing is & why it happens
According to De Grey, ageing is a combination of two processes—the life-long process that starts before we’re born, and the late-life process that kicks of in middle-age.
1. The life-long process
This is the creation of molecular and cellular changes to the structure of the body that occur as consequences of normal metabolism. In layman’s terms, it’s the inevitable damage that happens to your body as you’re living day-to-day. The creation of progressive accumulating changes is something that we are never going to be able to stop happening—it’s a fact.
2. The late-life process
This is the decline of the mental and physical functions of the human body, and it doesn’t begin until middle age.
So why does it happen in the first place?
Well, the body is set up to tolerate specific changes that the life-long process brings about—but only a certain amount. The late-life process is set off once the threshold level below which the body functions fine is exceeded. Eventually, the body becomes overwhelmed until it functions less and less well.
Tips to end ageing
De Grey, also known as the godfather of longevity, believes that the easiest way for medicine to bring ageing under control is not to slow it down, but to reverse it. We know it sounds clickbait-y, but he’s got decades of research backing this claim.
Ageing is not a biological phenomenon—it’s physics. The same process occurs in the human body as it does in a car, aeroplane or any other machine with moving parts. The goal is to preserve the molecular and cellular structure of the body to how it is in early adulthood.
The 7 causes of ageing
De Grey started off by characterising the differences of the molecular and cellular structure and composition between a 25 and a 50-year-old body.
He then figured a way to reverse and repair the self-inflicted damage that’s occurred year on year for each of those differences.
"A reimagined Research Strategy for Aging", sens research foundation.
It turns out that even though our bodies experience many different types of damage, they can be classified into 7 categories, each with a plausible and viable approach to fixing them.
For example, cell loss happens in different parts of the body and causes various aspects of ageing. As you age, your cells die and your body stops replacing them. De Grey’s solution? Stem cell therapy. This process involves putting healthy cells in your body to divide, differentiate, and replace the cells that the body is not replacing on its own.
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Ageing in the scientific community
This all began in the late ’90s, as De Grey paced up and down his Los Angeles bedroom at 4 in the morning.
Everyone thought he had lost his mind. This was a paradigm shift, and one that took years for his colleagues to grasp.
After the 2013 publication of ‘The Hallmarks of Ageing’, which according to De Grey was a comprehensive restatement of what he’d said a decade earlier, there was a shift in the scientific community’s attitude. This paper became a holy scripture, and is the most-cited paper in the biology of ageing in the past decade.
When will ageing be defeated?
According to De Grey, for the time being, this is not possible. Initially, funding held him and his fellow scientists back. Although financing is still an issue, investors are gradually becoming more and more interested in their projects.
We have a 50% chance of ending ageing within 15 years and a 10% chance that we won’t get there for 100 years—it’s complicated, and there’s still a lot of work to be done.