Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Quest For Immortality

Aubrey de Grey is a scientist with The Methuselah Foundation. He's got a background in computer science. He has used his engineering mindset to come up with an engineering approach to stop the aging process dead in its tracks (pun intended). This will allow humanity to stay young forever and live an indefinate lifespan.

A few years ago, Aubrey began digging around in scientific publications in order to find out what exactly causes us to age. As it turns out, there are only 7 major processes that cause our bodies to become old and wither away.

Why is he so sure there are only 7? Because the last one of those 7 has been found over 20 years ago. And 20 years just so happens to be an eternity in science. Had there been more aging processes in our bodies, science would have surely found some of those more recently.

The seven things that slowly kill us over time are:

  1. Too few cells
  2. Too many cells (cancer)
  3. Chromosomal mutations (dna corruption)
  4. Mitochondrial mutations (another type of dna corruption)
  5. Junk inside cells
  6. Junk outside cells
  7. Protein crosslinking outside of cells

And that's basically it. Tweak all of those so they don't do damage anymore, and you've got yourself a non-aging human.

A huge task, but peanuts compared to the impossible task that some researchers, with the impractical researcher mindset that doesn't aim for application in practice, would have you believe.

For details, check Aubrey's site on SENS (Strategies for Engineering Negligible Senescence). Everything is explained there, from the technical stuff to the most basic of immortality-related concerns.

Aubrey's SENS has had some criticism. Nobody ever manages to build a solid case against SENS, but some keep critisizing it anyway. So Aubrey has issued a challenge in July 2005. Anybody who can construct a solid case against SENS, can win 20.000 dollars. Easy money... you'd think. Strangely, nobody has picked up the challenge yet.

Gee, I wonder why. ;)

In order to get enough funds available to engineer immortality in humans, Aubrey first wants to implement it in a mouse. Once the world has seen that it is possible to seriously intervene in the aging process, the funds will surely flow. Human immortality should come no more than a few years behind rodent immortality. Aubrey thinks it is achievable in about 25 years.

In order to achieve the world's first immortal mouse within the next 10 years, Aubrey has come up with the Methuselah Mouse Prize. The M-Prize can be donated to, and whoever demonstrates a record life extension in mice receives a financial prize.

History shows this is a very succesful model. The Ansari X-Prize for cheap spaceflights has collected several millions over several years. Those cheap spaceflights were made not too long ago.

The M-Prize is growing much faster than the X-Prize did in its day. At the moment, it is at 3.209.275 dollars. That's impressive, especially if you consider that the M-Prize has only been around for about 2.5 years. It was at only just below 2 million not so long ago, but a generous and anonimous donater put an extra million on there and pushed it towards the 3 million. Now, it has already climbed up to 3.2 million.

Aubrey has recently had some nice exposure when he went on CBS 60 Minutes (America's most popular news program, or so I've read). An inside friend of mine tells me this appearance was a really big deal, and site hits increased massively. It is fascinating to see all of this coming into the mainstream. The interviewer, Morley Safer, took Aubrey seriously. No laughing and pointing fingers at his 'crackpot' ideas. Not bad if you consider that the word 'immortality' has only been accepted in scientific circles a few years ago.

It will be extremely interesting to see this pick up even more and more in the years to come.

Statistics show that curing diseases such as cancer and diabetes will only prolong our lives by a few measly years, while intercepting aging itself will increase our lifespans with decades. We're losing 100.000 people per day to old age. The world sorely needs a cure for aging. It's about time we got practical and efficient, and pump our research dollars where they matter... into anti-aging research.

Wanna help turn this into a reality?

You can!

Spread the meme. That is very important. Tell all your friends and relatives. Post about it on your favorite forum.

Know any rich folks? Enlighten them and talk them into donating to the M-Prize.

Do whatever it takes to let it be known to the world that we can stop aging and live healthily for as long as we like. Let it be known that this is for real, and that the science behind immortality is as solid as a ton of bricks.

Together... we can take on death.

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Justin said...

Until people start living far beyond the current maximum, there's no way to tell for sure what will cause them to die - these 7 reasons could kill everyone before they make it to #8. I think new health problems will keep popping up as people get older and older, and the task will become solving these problems as quickly as they arise.

Not that immortality is impossible, I just think that the human body is a short-lived and frail machine, easier replaced than improved.

Anonymous said...

I'm open-minded about the possibilitiy for extension of human life. We've come a long ways already.

So far, though, we've only extended the length of old age. I think the real goal is to have a youthful body forever. It sounds like that's what de Grey is working on.

Jan-Willem Bats said...


Even if there's a number 8... curing these 7 will get people into escape velocity by extending their lives for at least a few decades.

And a few extra decades is all you need for many more scientific revolutions.

Aubrey's work is open for anyone to peer-review. Nobody steps forward and names additional major aging processes. Aubrey's model looks quite complete.

Anybody who disagrees, should definately take up the challenge.

al fin said...

Kudos to de Grey for laying out the preliminary order of battle. I suspect that epigenetic factors yet to be discovered will represent the initial breakthroughs in anti-aging.

There is nothing wrong with concentrating on de Grey's 7 factors, but with recent discoveries in RNA regulation of gene expression, it is likely there is more to the story.

Justin said...

You're assuming a Singularity. I don't know if that's any more provable than the hypothetical #8.

Jan-Willem Bats said...

No, I am not assuming a Singularity in any way.

This post and its comments are completely free of Singularity related stuff as far as I can see.

Anonymous said...

Here's an entry on the Betterhumans blog by "CP" that biotechnology will only raise life expectancy by a few decades at least.

He said here:

"This is in individual terms a long range science because nobody now alive will have their lives extended more than a few decades at most; a little way past age 100 is the best we can aim for for us. Greatly extended spans will require some genetic tinkering, and perhaps persons constructed exactly as we are can't have it; in some ways our appearance and metabolism (meaning food and vitamin and other requirements) may have to be changed just as they have changed from earlier hominid forms."

What's your take on this, Jan-Willem? Being a life extension enthusiast and all.

Jan-Willem Bats said...

My opinion is that CP does not understand the implications of exponential acceleration.

Myself... I see the human body as a logical machine with finite complexity. We will eventually understand every detail of how our bodies work, and by that time we will also have to nanotechnological tools to modify anything as we see fit.

Not that you actually NEED to understand the entire body thoroughly in order to make some meaningful tweaks to it. Quite the contrary. Aubrey's method focusses on finding and tweaking exactly just those things necessary to increase lifespan.

But CP is entitled to his own opinion ofcourse. However, I do expect more and more people to see indefinate lifespans as an inevitability as time progresses.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. There seem to have been a flood of life-extension naysayers lately on BH, especially after the 60 Minutes exposure.

Jan-Willem Bats said...

Not everybody can take the idea.

Various people have various reasons for holding on to delusional ideas.

(definition of delusion: a false belief strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence)

They're not necessarily technical reasons, even though they're trying to use technical arguments to make their point.

Justin said...

I'm a bit confused - what proof do you have behind this exponential acceleration, and how is it not Singularity-related?

Jan-Willem Bats said...

The evidence for exponential acceleration is nowhere written down as convincing as in Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Returns.

If you're not careful, you could accidentily find yourself thinking that exponential acceleration is required in order to achieve a Singularity (which I define as the creation of superior intelligence).

But that's not true. It sure does help to get to a Singularity FAST to have exponential acceleration, but it is NOT a requirement.

We could theoretically stick with our current rate of progress, and take decades or a few centuries to build a superior AI and achieve the Singularity.

However, we have exponential acceleration in our technology. And this will make it so that we get there a lot faster.

But when push comes to shove, exponential acceleration and the Singularity are two completely different things.

Justin said...

Kurzweil's accelerating growth may not be required for the Singularity, but it would invevitably cause it - Kurzweil himself uses this as part of his argument for Singulatarianism. (I actually got to see him speak at Worcester Polytechnic Institute a few months ago.)

However, I'm not completely convinced by Kurzweil's Law - the points he uses for his data are not chosen in an unbiased manner, and I would not call them conclusive enough to prove a technological revolution fast enough to achieve immortality, especially since our knowledge of radical life extension is still theoretical.

Of course, I can't prove him wrong (and personally hope he's right), but I'm not going to be convinced until I see solid, indisputable evidence.

Anonymous said...

Nice, but I'm doubtful extended lifespans will happen in time for us to benefit. I've read a lot of things by ImmInst members like Brian Wowk who says that only young children alive today will se it happen.

Jan-Willem Bats said...

Do you have a link to Brian Wowk's writings?

Have you also read the law of accelerating returns?

It's a good thing to read multiple views on the matter.

Anonymous said...

Here's the link.

sarahintampa said...

Immortality? Bad idea. Overpopulation, mass starvation. *Everyone* can't be immortal. So who would get to? The rich? The priveledged? That's not exactly cool, either. Still, it's an interesting concept.

Justin said...

Well, hopefully other technologies will advance as quickly as life extension does. There's still a LOT of land left, and once that fills up, there's still the sea.

Jan-Willem Bats said...


Check the concerns section on the SENS page.

All your concerns are addressed (and dismissed) there.

Jan-Willem Bats said...

"There's still a LOT of land left, and once that fills up, there's still the sea."

And space.

Thanks to nanomaterials (think of nanotube sheets 250 times stronger than steel at a fraction of the weight), spacetravel will finally become practical.

Anonymous said...

Is Immortality not something for SF-Movies??

Jan-Willem Bats said...

No. Religion is.

Justin said...

You'd better watch yourself. Such words anger the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

Unknown said...

Any mortal made immortal should be made sterile as well.

no name required said...

I've been thinking about death alot recently, I used to think about it and be able to shrug it off and get on with my life... but recently the thought has been following me around and i can't shake it... I'm very probably making myself ill by worrying about it... but nevertheless the thought remains...

I don't want me or my family to ever die... I mean why? it's just so unfair... and until God is proven to exist or not one way or the other, I am throwing myself into the arms of science...

And as such, if you or anyone you know of ever needs any subjects to be used for research or testing then please contact me as I'd be most interested in taking part...

Now, I'm sure a fair few of you will have dismissed me as "crazy" or a "nut", but I just want to assure you that I have nothing but respect and admiration for this blog and your work in general Jan. I just wish I was clever enough to understand it all...

Any info or links that you think would help me would be greatfully recieved...


no name required said...

oh, in addition, i have made a note of all the links listed in your original post... (just incase you thought i missed them!)


Dr. Leonid Gavrilov, Ph.D. said...

Thank you for your interesting post!
I thought perhaps you may also find this related story interesting to you:
Longevity Science: SENS

chrissi_le said...

Sterilisation is a bad idea. Stopping aging wont make humans immortal. Accidents and disease kill, too. I guess about 10% of all people die that way.

"This is in individual terms a long range science because nobody now alive will have their lives extended more than a few decades at most; a little way past age 100 is the best we can aim for for us. Greatly extended spans will require some genetic tinkering, and perhaps persons constructed exactly as we are can't have it; in some ways our appearance and metabolism may have to be changed just as they have changed from earlier hominid forms."

Well, then we have to develop an interface and plug our brains somewhere in that new hominid. Its the same with using 20 year old harddrives in modern computers.