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Science and technology Updated: 06 Nov 2018

Aubrey de Grey’s battle to halt aging

Myths, legends and stories of biblical and fictional characters: magical elixirs and fountains with curative properties. Eternal youth has been, from the origin of humanity, a desire that has obsessed man and one of the principal challenges of the medical community. Fantasies aside, gerontologist Aubrey de Grey is researching how to lengthen the life of people so that within a couple of decades, we may be able to decide whether or not we want to grow old.

De Grey divides his time between Cambridge and Silicon Valley. The British University and the SENS Foundation (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senesence) are the scenarios where he carries out his research, which have led de Grey to affirm that some people who are alive today will reach 1,000 years of age.

“I think we are very close to having complete medical knowledge about aging,” De Grey said at the presentation of the book The Next Step: Exponential Life, which was published by BBVA as part of the OpenMind initiative. The book can be downloaded for free in various electronic formats.

Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey

That is, precisely, the key to detaining the consequences of the passage of time: knowing its causes. De Grey explains aging as a series of changes in the metabolism that progressively deteriorate the organism.

Finally, we have a good plan to solve, within 20 or 30 years, one of the questions that humanity has been asking since the dawn of history – and for which we have never before had an idea of the answer,” he said.

In order to put his theories within the reach of everyone, de Grey tries to explain them in a simple fashion. He did so during a TED talk, in which he asked the attendees to raise their hands if they were in favor of malaria. No one did so, just as he expected. In fact, he wanted to demonstrate that aging should be treated like any other disorder: an illness for which a cure should be found.

The presentation of the book The Next Step: Exponential Life in Madrid

The scientist is sure that this time, he is following the correct path. He compares aging to an old car that has to be repaired by changing the broken parts; in other words, repairing the damages. Technology has begun to provide science with tools that can prolong life, such as bio-impression, which produces artificial replicas of tissues and organs.

Of course, “the cure to aging will come in different stages,” de Grey says. “Each person ages in a different manner, because all of us accumulate different types of scientific data in our body, and at a different pace.” Scientists have identified seven types of age-related damage (the same ones as in 1982) for which there already exist repair mechanisms.

Aubrey de Grey is not alone in his quest. His colleagues increasingly support his theories, in which he has invested a large part of his personal fortune. Not only the experts believe in living longer. Google announced in 2015 that it would invest nearly $500 million in the search for tools to slow aging. Bill Maris, a founding member of Google Ventures, said in an interview with Bloomberg that we already have at our disposal the tools to live for 500 years and that he was only waiting “to live long enough so as not to die.”