Aubrey De Grey

Who Wants to Live Forever?


Life as we know it has a beginning and an end. But gerontologist Aubrey de Grey is working on finding a way for us to live forever. Setting aside the associated moral quandary for a moment, this possibility presents us with challenges that we have never faced before.


Can you imagine yourself being immortal? Turning 100, 200, 500, or even 1,000 years old? Living to experience the lives of your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren? How would your pension handle this? Immortality would completely take care of our pension system issues once and for all. And what would reproduction look like? With immortality, the desire to leave something behind on earth after death would likely no longer be as strong as it is today. On the other hand, a ban on reproduction might also be put into place to avoid overpopulating the planet. Because if nobody dies, where are all the people supposed to live? Perhaps in space? 


With thoughts such as these, we notice that immortality is a difficult concept for us humans to grasp, and is still unimaginable. At the same time, the notion of immortality is discussed as the greatest threat to humanity. Whatever one's personal views on the subject might be, one researcher from London already has his own vision of how we could achieve immortality – and is working hard towards this goal. 


Aubrey De Grey, 54 years old, is considered to be one of today's most influential gerontologists. De Grey, who is a computer scientist at the University of Cambridge's Department of Genetics, taught himself what he knows about gerontology. But he is not interested in freeing humanity from death. Rather, he would like to see aging become a thing of the past. In his opinion, aging is "only one of many possible causes of death." Still, his work
is controversial. He gained worldwide attention a few years ago by presenting new scientific approaches that he claims could stop aging in humans. Aubrey De Grey considers the dream of staying young and healthy forever to be an achievable goal. He believes the actual problem lies with the consequences that society would then have to deal with. 

The seven deadly sins of aging


In Aubrey De Grey's view, there are "seven deadly sins" of aging that lead to death (see box on left). He considers these deadly sins to be types of damage. For each type of damage, he suggests targeted strategies to fight them. In an aging body, undesirable cells increasingly accumulate. These accumulations can cause problems, for example in the joints. By activating the body's own killer cells, however, it could be possible to avoid such accumulations. Since these cells only gradually accumulate in the body, at first they do not cause any damage. It only becomes more serious when a certain threshold is exceeded. For Aubrey De Grey, this also leads to the conclusion that these accumulations only need to be prevented from reaching this threshold. If this were achieved, it would be as if signs of aging were simply eradicated. The damage thus remains at a manageable level. Aubrey De Grey answers the question of how frequently such "rejuvenating cures" are needed with an analogy from the automotive world: In order for the body to always be in excellent condition, it would have to go more frequently into the "cell repair shop." If simply keeping aging processes at bay and ensuring that everything works reliably is enough, a visit once every few years is sufficient.


Who will live to see the end of aging?


In De Grey's opinion, the prospect of eliminating aging is only 30 years away. Of the seven problems to be solved, three of these are currently being researched through animal testing (cancer, cell death, and aged cells). It is estimated that the remaining four problems will take another 15 years to solve. Perhaps even much longer. Aubrey De Grey's biggest problem currently appears to be funding for his projects. Still, the British scientist is not the kind of guy who would let something so worldly as money hold him back. He will find a way. And we can be excited to see where this leads.