Friday, June 22, 2007

One Scientist’s Mission to Turn Gerontology on Its Head

The latest issue of AARP magazine (July/August 2007) features a story about a scientist and his mission to prove that aging is bad for you. What? Aubrey de Grey (at right), computer scientist turned biologist, says that aging kills 100,000 people a day. He is turning the world of gerontology upside down. “I’ve been outraged that gerontologists were being so mealy-mouthed,” he explains, “wanting to understand aging but not doing anything about it.”

He says that aging is nothing more than a systems failure due in part to engineering. He has developed a seven step strategy which he calls SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescience). He outlines seven essential causes of aging (almost all are types of cellular damage) and offers ways to repair them. Eliminating these types of cellular damage would extend life to 125 years and beyond in bodies that would be essentially disease-free, he insists.

Many scientists take issue with de Grey’s claim that aging is as treatable as many other diseases, although his mission to shake up an arm of science – gerontology – that has not seen many radical developments in years is definitely working. Most agree, however, including de Grey that funding and policy have been in short supply when it comes to the topic of aging. AARP points out that the National Institutes of Health allocated 0.1% of its $28 billion in funding to aging-related research and medicine. Some scientists recommend upping that amount to at least $3 billion.

There do seem to be many more individuals who are living beyond 100. These folks can be great case studies while alive by examining not only social conditions, but their DNA. The AARP article reminds us, too, of cultural differences, such as the phenomenon of how many French people maintain their weight and proper cholesterol levels in spite of their diet of bread and cheese. It’s the wine, they say. Or is it? Research on mice is in progress, testing theories of longevity first on those critters.

Of course, there are important ramifications of extending life well beyond 100. Just think how many more retirees to workers there would be then? And what about environmental impacts? Would we lose something essential if we lived to 125? What do you think? Post your comments or email us your blog on aging.

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