In August 2005 I interviewed Dr Aubrey de Grey, biogerontologist from the Department of Genetics, University of Cambridge, UK, about his work to develop a cure for human aging. He calls it SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) and is confident that, given enough funding (a measly $100 million a year for ten years), we can make significant in-roads towards curing human aging. He and his partners have established The Methuselah Mouse Prize, a scientific competition designed to draw attention to the ability of new technologies to slow and even reverse the damage of the aging process. Back in August, Technology Review magazine issued another challenge – a prize of $20,000 for any molecular biologist working in the field of aging who could submit an intellectually serious argument that SENS is so wrong that it is unworthy of learned debate. Well this week an independent panel of judges decided that none of the three submissions received were worthy of the prize.

Who were the judges? Just a bunch of nobodies.

  • Rodney Brooks, PhD, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory;
  • Anita Goel, MD and PhD, founder and chief executive of Nanobiosym;
  • Vikram Kumar, MD, cofounder and chief executive of Dimagi, and a pathologist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston;
  • Nathan Myhrvold, PhD, cofounder and chief executive of Intellectual Ventures, and former chief technologist at Microsoft; and
  • J. Craig Venter, PhD, founder of the Venter Institute and developer of whole-genome shotgun sequencing, which sped up the human genome project, deliberated over the three serious submissions and has now delivered its verdict.

What does it all mean? I guess it means that, despite the derision aimed at Dr de Grey’s theories from certain members of the scientific community, no-one has been able to provide a scientific rationale sufficient to convince the panel of judges that SENS is inherently flawed. Now, I’m no biogerontologist (hell, I can hardly spell it), but I’m all for backing any serious big brain (and, in Dr de Grey’s case, a big beard as well) who thinks they might be able to delay, let alone cure, aging. Shouldn’t this be the #1 field of scientific research?

Of course, all de Grey needs to do is reverse engineer Keith Richard’s DNA. The guy IS Methuselah.

Listen to my original interview here. Read the three submissions here.