Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetimeby Published 04 Sep 2007
|Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime.pdf|
|Publisher||St. Martin's Press|
MUST WE AGE?
A long life in a healthy, vigorous, youthful body has always been one of humanity's greatest dreams. Recent progress in genetic manipulations and calorie-restricted diets in laboratory animals hold forth the promise that someday science will enable us to exert total control over our own biological aging.
Nearly all scientists who study the biology of aging agree that we will someday be able to substantially slow down the aging process, extending our productive, youthful lives. Dr. Aubrey de Grey is perhaps the most bullish of all such researchers. As has been reported in media outlets ranging from 60 Minutes to The New York Times, Dr. de Grey believes that the key biomedical technology required to eliminate aging-derived debilitation and death entirely--technology that would not only slow but periodically reverse age-related physiological decay, leaving us biologically young into an indefinite future--is now within reach.
In Ending Aging, Dr. de Grey and his research assistant Michael Rae describe the details of this biotechnology. They explain that the aging of the human body, just like the aging of man-made machines, results from an accumulation of various types of damage. As with man-made machines, this damage can periodically be repaired, leading to indefinite extension of the machine's fully functional lifetime, just as is routinely done with classic cars. We already know what types of damage accumulate in the human body, and we are moving rapidly toward the comprehensive development of technologies to remove that damage. By demystifying aging and its postponement for the nonspecialist reader, de Grey and Rae systematically dismantle the fatalist presumption that aging will forever defeat the efforts of medical science.
"Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime" Reviews
I had been wondering about the legitimacy of the idea of radical life extension, and was lead to this book. De Gray is a gerontologist - he does basic research into the causes of aging related diseases - and his stated purpose in writing this book is to encourage the public to view aging as a treatable disease rather than an inevitable part of the cycle of life and death.
The book consists of a short moral argument about the immediate importance of researching aging (because it maims and kills huge numbers of people everyday), a survey of seven of the most significant known causes of human aging, and what is known about how those causes can be addressed and combated. Were talking a much deeper level than "eat healthy and exercise" sort of advice; de Gray's main line of research is into mutations in mitochondrial DNA that cause increased cell stress via production of free-radicals. In other words: something that will need to be addressed in a lab rather than your kitchen.
That leads to the other key reason for the book's existence: to encourage funding into these kinds of research. His stance is that we know what research needs to be done to literally end aging; how quickly the research gets funded and accomplished will determine how many people can be saved from painful deaths. He does calls for governments to fund this research in the same way they fund research into cancer and aids, and argues that the payoff will be greater. But I really enjoy his contest-focused approach to fund raising: his foundation (the Methuselah Foundation) has set up a prize for a few key milestones to encourage people and institutions to undertake the research. This is the same concept as the X-prize (which is also privately funded); the idea is that the presence of a contest lends legitimacy to a course of research that might otherwise seem too risky. Organizations are thus able to get financing for cutting edge things, and much more money gets invested into the project than would have been had it been controlled by some government agency.
The book is wonderful in its passionate sense of urgency, and in its gentle (but satisfyingly technical and difficult) presentation of some very deep concepts in cellular and molecular biology. It would be a great book to give to someone who's interested in studying medicine, but hasn't yet decided exactly what field they'd like to become an expert in.
The science is fascinating, but de Grey's ego can be a distraction.
Aubrey de Grey provides an optimistic service in summarizing all aging into seven general physiological areas, and providing a framework for science-based rejuvenation: strategies for engineering negligible senescence (SENS). Each area includes rather detailed biochemical and physiological explanations, and an evaluation of progress from related medical work.
The 7 areas are:
Mitochondrial DNA failures
Cell loss/atrophy, incl Immune senescence
Death avoiding cells
Intercellular junk, and lysosome overload
Extracellular junk, including glyciated proteins
Cross linking of proteins, including tau/Alzheimers
He makes a smart, essential distinction between preventative and palliative treatments, versus rejuvenating or curative treatment. Aging damage will inevitably accumulate, so masking or slowing it, alone, is insufficient to extend life dramatically.
Unfortunately, de Grey is now more of a fundraiser and cheerleader, and I can't tell how true are his scientific assertions and prognostications. I am not sure why he seems so isolated, but clearly that won't work in medicine.
He likes naming things and seems to insist on leading things, perhaps because he's sure his ideas are the best. The book is too heavy on his own discoveries and theories, without full focus on how to actually achieve SENS given the entire universe of available ideas and contributors.
This book is 10-12 years old, and it seems he has made very little progress sense. Four stars for biomedical detail in clear explanations, and memorably teaching valuable vocabulary, though it is verbose and repetitive.
The example of where he suggests solving visceral fat by ordering those cells to apoptosis, using the fact that they tend to be older, makes me think he isn't as reliable as his command of pure vocabulary indicates. As does his tired, trite blaming of "politics".
The book gets 4 stars, as provocative and informative; the author/messenger gets 2 stars in my mind.
"Give me all your pension money, and I'll make sure you live forever!" Yeah, like we hadn't heard that one before. It's written in a fun way, but as a moleculair biologist I was cringing every other page at inconsistenties and misquotations to plain basic science. Would work as a fictional book, not a scientific one. Have a good laugh, and forget about it.
My gut feeling is this book is overly optimistic about how easily aging will be overcome in the near future, but as Ray Kurzweil would say human intuition is really bad when it comes to scientific/technological progress. The premise sounds good: don’t try to fix the all the complex metabolic pathways that contribute to aging, that’s near impossible, instead just try to clean up all the toxins and junk that builds up with age, and we will stay youthful. Of course it’s a little more complex than that since de Grey’s plan includes moving mitochondrial DNA to the nucleus and completely removing the gene the encodes for telomerase to stop cancer in its tracks.
My only real complaint about the book is that de Grey does a terrible job convincing the reader that living forever is desirable and that the world could even cope. Out of context from a Ray Kurzweil future this book must seem absolutely mad. The writing itself is also a bit inconsistent, since the first part explaining why anyone would want to live forever is near incoherent and many of the technical parts have lots of lame forced analogies. Then there are mini rants, like one against US stem cell research policies which was a bit out of place since the book is mostly technical, although these rants were usually the best written parts.
Overall I was convinced there is a clear cut path for medical science to pursue to end aging, but I’m not sure I’d recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t at least think there is a remote possibility that the singularity is near.
Check http://www.mprize.org/ to see the progress on ending aging.