Stopping the Aging Process – SENS gains acceptance in scientific community
“They are side-effects of being alive” – Aubrey de Grey on the effects of everyday activities such as breathing and eating required for metabolism causes us to age.
A decade after SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) came under fire by the scientific community, the new approach to medical research and development is gaining universal acceptance in the scientific community. While still in its infancy, research in SENS has begun in earnest, and a paper published by Maria Blasco of National Cancer Research Center (CNIO) in Madrid, which is cited on a daily basis, is a clear sign that things are now moving in the right direction.
Top biomedical research centres that once argued strongly against the SENS approach are now even publishing their own papers supporting some of the ideas proposed by regenerative medicine or are at least reconciling. (A more recent article published by NCBI 2016, “The aging-disease false dichotomy: understanding senescence as pathology” compared to another in 2005, “Science fact and the SENS agenda“).
Also see (“Stable nuclear expression of ATP8 and ATP6genes rescues a mtDNA Complex V null mutant, Oxford Journals, first published 4th September 2016”
SENS theory of the aging and gerontology.
In a series of talks and interviews Aubrey de Grey, chief scientist of the SENS Foundation and pioneer of engineered negligible senescence, says that current approach to geriatric and gerontology medicine (i.e. the approach to how we treat age-related diseases) is fundamentally flawed.
*Picture via The Rockefeller University Press.
SENS assumes that aging is an on-going process and is the accumulation of damage to the body over time. Initially, our bodies are able to repair most of this damage naturally but over time gradually loses this ability. This results in the phenomenon that we know as the aging process. However, the theory is contested and there are experts who think otherwise.
But there is evidence that supports the SENS idea, which can be observed in lifestyle and genetics of certain individuals who live longer. In some cases up to 40 years longer than the average. Caloric restriction and reduced oxidative stress have all shown to decrease cellular damage, slow changes associated with aging, and increase the lifespan of mammalian test animals.
The problem with current gerontology approach.
Traditionally, medical science had sought to find cures and provide medical intervention only when diseases happen. But while this head-on strategy is effective at combating infectious diseases, for age-related diseases it is an effort in futility.
A lot of money has been spent trying to cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and atherosclerosis in the same way that we’ve been trying to cure infectious diseases. However, aging-related diseases differ from infectious diseases in that it’s continuously being created by natural processes metabolism – and you can’t treat metabolism like a typical infectious disease that you can eliminate from the body.
It’s also an impractical solution considering how complex the human body is. It is also incapable of repairing age-related damage that has already occurred, making it useless in reversing the aging process or really helping those who are already of advanced age.
As de Grey puts it, “They are side-effects of being alive”.
Extend these examples to other lifeforms and we’re now looking at plants and animals that live hundreds and thousands of years longer than the even the oldest humans. The Bristlecone Pine lives in excess of five millennia. And since science has long sought inspiration from nature – why not extend this emulation to longevity?
“Maybe if we could understood the really detailed nature of why that is true then we could use that knowledge to create therapies.”
The third method to stop the aging process – regenerative therapies.
SENS takes on a different approach. Rather than trying to slow down the aging process (which is impossible since the same processes that cause aging, metabolism, is also what keeps us alive) SENS suggests that research should be done instead to maintain the body’s own repair mechanisms.
By undergoing periodic “rejuvenation” sessions, SENS methodology believes that it can help the body repair enough damage each time before it can over accumulate and become pathogenic, even though the damage is still being produced at its natural rate.
In fact, related technologies such as stem cell therapy and tissue engineering (e.g. growing organ transplants) are already being used in clinics. It is mainly used to treat accidental injuries that would otherwise leave them incapacitated or dead, but the same technologies could be used to treat a far bigger killer – old-age.
Criticisms of SENS, new scientific understanding that support it.
Moving away from the highly refuting opinions of a decade ago, some scientists now suggest that disruptive regenerative biotechnologies would interfere with the immensely complex biological processes of the human body, and thus making it impossible for use by the public at large. Instead it would make more sense to try to “downgrade” the importance of aging by influencing evolutionary mechanisms and thus make our bodies “choose” to live longer. “The Fallacy of the Longevity Elixir: Negligible Senescence May be Achieved, but Not by Using Something Physical”).
Society and its understanding of aging and death.
But perhaps the biggest obstacle stopping regenerative medicine and therapies from gaining widespread acceptance is the public’s lack of understanding of aging. It’s still widely believed that aging and death are immutable laws of nature and nothing can or should be done to stop it – that it’s completely different from other diseases. Those that do understand fear the significant social implications it could cause.
However, societies have undergone dramatic changes over and over again. Each time came with its own doubts and negative speculations, but society as we know it today wouldn’t have been possible with those changes. Old age kills approximately 150,000 deaths a day and is the cause of a lot of unhappiness and suffering, both the aged and their younger family members.
So, do you think SENS is the right approach and should be investigated more rigorously? At the very least – don’t you think it’s something worth fighting for?
Kw: Aging process