The SENS Research Foundation’s co-founder wants to exponentially prolong human lifespans by targeting seven cellular roots of aging.
· Dr. Aubrey de Grey describes seven cell-level sources of aging that include mutations and cell waste accumulation.
· Developing ways to treat these origins of aging are spawning anti-aging breakthroughs.
· Quantum leaps of anti-aging technology will potentially provide capabilities to choose your body’s age and possibly live to hundreds of years old.
Imagine being able to choose the age of your body even though you’ve lived well past 70 years or even reaching the age of 200. These conceptions may seem like ideas from a sci-fi novel, but biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey wants to make them a reality.
When speaking about a timeframe for these technological leaps to combat aging, de Grey says, “I think we have got a 50-50 chance of getting to that tipping point in mice within five years from now, certainly it could be 10 or 15 years if we get unlucky. Similarly, for humans, a 50-50 chance would be twenty years at this point, and there’s a 10 percent chance that we won’t get there for a hundred years.” So, what’s hampering us from making quick progress in developing revolutionary anti-aging technology?
Culturally speaking, we’ve come to accept the inevitability of aging, and our attitudes as a society are more or less fatalistic when it comes to this topic. In fact, most people balk at the possibility of driving longevity indefinitely, a social phenomenon de Grey calls the “pro-aging trance.” This perception has stymied anti-aging research innovators like de Grey from easily acquiring the proper funding for their research due to hesitancy from investors.
But the view that we can tackle aging to prolong the human lifespan exponentially is more recently becoming less radical, with more academic and private institutes contributing resources. de Grey says that defeating aging “is not just a future industry; it’s an industry now that will be both profitable and extremely good for your health.”
To turn the “pro-aging trance” upside down, de Grey says that we’ll need to have promising lab results in mice that show dramatic lifespan extension, some of which we already have. Once the public finds out about it, the demand for this type of research and technology will blossom, resulting in new ways to tackle aging.
To provide an unlimited life expectancy extension, de Grey and colleagues seek to stop the purported deleterious programmed self-destruction of the human body with time, where they say aging originates. Since 1900, our life expectancies have increased by about three months per year, but the maximal lifespan has remained the same — about 120 to 150 years. By figuring out how to sidestep self-destructive programs inherent in each cell, we may gain the ability to avoid diseases from aging and live well beyond 150 years. This begs the question, “Where do we turn to find this physiological program of self-destruction within the cell?”
Dr. de Grey, one of the foremost leading personages in anti-aging research, has some tantalizing proposals that may give answers. According to the SENS Research Foundation co-founder, we need to look at seven specific interconnected drivers of aging in cells.
For metabolic reactions to synthesize the proteins or hormones required for life sustenance, our cells produce and accrue waste products inside them. However, as people get older, their “cell waste” disposal capabilities deteriorate, triggering molecular debris and protein accumulation in cells. The resulting debris and protein aggregations propagate tissue breakdown and organ dysfunction, leading to age-related diseases like metabolic disorders, cardiovascular ailments, and eventual death.
Proteins and other cellular debris can accumulate outside and between cells begetting their pile up. Resulting debris and protein conglomerations impede cellular connections and their communication with other surrounding cells, triggering cell death, tissue and organ dysfunction, and eventually diseases that provoke death.
Two types of mutations that can impart aging, disease, and ultimately, death include those to DNA that codes for proteins used throughout the body (nuclear mutations) and others for the cell’s power-generating structure — the mitochondria. Nuclear mutations can cause diseases like cancer and diabetes, while mitochondrial mutations limit the cell’s capacity to produce energy and result in mitochondrial diseases that lead to death.
As we get older, aged, non-proliferating cells called senescent cells that release a milieu of inflammatory substances build up in our bodies and cause age-related inflammation (inflammaging). Aubrey de Grey proposes that during our lifetime, the ratio of healthy stem cells to senescent cells diminishes, resulting in an imbalance that constitutes a major origin of aging.
As the final aging cause, de Grey proposes that bonds and links between cells that allow them to communicate and form cohesive tissues over-accumulate during aging. The multiplication of bonds connecting cells then causes a detrimental loss of tissue elasticity and can facilitate diseases like arteriosclerosis — the hardening of blood vessel walls.
Dr. de Grey’s approach to confront the seven sources of aging revolves around treating aging itself as opposed to focusing on prevention. In other words, he wants to intervene while cellular damage is taking place. The technique works differently than our current options for age-related care, gerontology and geriatrics, that focus on intervening before cell damage and prevention of tissue deterioration after damage, respectively.
Dr. de Grey has alluded to utilizing discoveries made in recent years, including the application of stem cells (induced pluripotent stem cells) and gene editing therapies like CRISPR-cas9 for treating processes of aging. But he always reminds those who follow him that we don’t know when a discovery will come that will substantially lengthen our health- and lifespans.
The AgeX Therapeutics biotechnology company that gears its work toward understanding the secrets of aging has generated products based on de Grey’s proposed cell-level roots of aging. One example is their creation called PureStem that provides a platform for making young stem cell-derived therapies for human tissue repair in degenerative disease. As research progresses in de Grey’s laboratory, more companies may adopt his ideas for the enhancement of human health.
de Grey is not the only innovator seeking to stimulate research to fight aging. He admires other researchers and collaborators in the field like Mike West and Elon Musk, who trample the caution and criticism that hold back progress to improve the human experience. With their advancements, the human species may be in for some intriguing developments in the next century with never-before-dreamed lifespan extensions.