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Always love a good dose of optimism from Aubrey


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You could have people living for thousands of years’: Aubrey de Grey, biomedical gerontologist and chief science officer of the Sens Research Foundation, a charity focused on age-related disease


Gerontologist Aubrey de Grey

 ‘Once we don’t have ageing, our longevity will be defined by other factors,’ says gerontologist Aubrey de Grey. Photograph: Getty Images

I’d say there is a 50/50 chance we will have brought ageing under decisive control within 20 years. In 100 years, there’s an 80% or 90% chance we will have achieved that goal. There will still be aspects of ageing we can’t control – various types of cellular and molecular damage – but we will be able to stay well within a comfort zone where that damage doesn’t bring significant risks.

Once we don’t have ageing, our longevity will be defined by other factors. We can put a crude number on that, if we extrapolate from today’s mortality rates in early adulthood. The proportion of people who die at 26 is now less than one in a thousand. If we eliminate ageing, that rate will stay the same with each passing year: extrapolate from that and you could have people living for thousands of years. We’ll also be bearing down on car accidents, pandemics, asteroids – so it makes no sense to put a number on how long people will live on average.


I don’t believe solving ageing will increase an economic divide. The benefits will be extraordinarily valuable

We have seen a levelling off of life expectancy recently – but that’s largely because the advances that brought about the great increases in the 19th and 20th centuries are now hitting diminishing returns. There’s also an obesity epidemic. But that ceases to be a problem when people don’t need to look after themselves because the medicine is good enough, which will be the case fairly soon.

The single tipping point will consist of a combination of a number of therapies that repair various types of damage that accumulate in the body. We have worked to classify these types of damage into seven big categories, which allows us to work out how we might treat them. One of them is loss of cells, where they are dying and not being automatically replaced by the division of other cells. If that’s happening, we need stem cell therapy. Different organs need slightly different types – but only slightly different, which is why the classification is useful.

I don’t believe solving ageing will increase an economic divide. The benefits will be extraordinarily valuable; it will pay for itself in no time. Any country that makes the political decision not to pay for this through taxation will soon become bankrupt, as other countries keep their chronologically elderly populations contributing to society.

I don’t see any existential risks. I’m interested in other risks, such as asteroid impacts; once we begin to understand that ageing is being eliminated, we will care much more about those risks and feel more invested in them. I’m not too worried about overpopulation, either. Overpopulation is really about pollution – the damage that people do. But we are acquiring solar technology, desalination, many things that will reduce the harm we do to the planet and therefore increase its capacity. There’s no reason it couldn’t house 70 billion people.

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My take:

Aubrey is funding some very interesting methods that are not unlikely to improve healthspan, and possibly even average and/or maximal lifespan.

But I think that Aubrey is much too optimistic in believing that current anti-aging research is likely to extend human lifespan to THOUSANDS of years!

  --  Saul

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