Milestone debate is win for longevity communications

Peter Fedichev and Aubrey de Grey’s titanic debate on halting aging vs rejuvenation had myriad winners as new opportunities heralded.

A landmark debate How to defeat aging held recently at the Foresight Institute was a close-run thing; as might be expected, the collegiate discussion dived deeply into rejuvenation biotech’s myriad and nuanced layers, and showcased contrasting perspectives on the future of aging research.  

The two leading scientists who went toe to toe were Dr Peter Fedichev, CEO of and Dr Aubrey de Grey, President and CSO of the Longevity Escape Velocity (LEV) Foundation, Like Karpov facing Kasparov over a chess board, the positions facing off were repairing aging through targeted interventions (de Grey) versus trying to slow or halt an irreversible process (Fedichev).

The debate captivated both the live audience and viewers around the world watching the live stream on YouTube; at the conclusion of the debate, the expert jury declared Dr Fedichev the winner — albeit by a narrow margin of 42 to 38 points – and he was awarded the cash prize of $10,000. 

“To defeat aging, we need to understand what aging is,” said Fedichev. “A bad theory is better than no theory since a bad theory may still provide you with interesting edge cases – possible experiments leading to its own invalidation and hence to a better theory with even more challenging edge cases.

“People often say aging needs its Manhattan or Apollo project. The truth is that both kinds of projects got underway after scientists mastered the underlying theories so well that they were able to estimate the parameters – from masses and sizes to timelines and costs – with no more than one order of magnitude error. Aging will be stopped only when our theoretical understanding matches this level.” 

“I greatly enjoyed debating the feasibility of radical life extension with Peter Fedichev,” said de Grey. “Our discussion highlighted the urgent need for more experiments to determine the reversibility of information-based aging, such as epigenetic noise.”

The debate, which was organized by Open Longevity, aimed to spark a renewed discussion within the scientific community and the public sphere regarding the most promising strategies for addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by an aging population. The debate highlighting the complexities and nuances of this critical area of scientific enquiry and in the end, longevity was the real winner – hopefully, this debate is the start of many such crucial events!

Playback of the debate, along with a transcript is here.  An edited version of the debate, with the speakers’ presentation material, is here and photos of the event can be found here

The argument presented by Dr Aubrey de Grey 

Aubrey de Grey argued in favor of the feasibility and potential of rejuvenation therapies to reverse aging and achieve radical life extension. His key points included: 

  1. Aging is a phenomenon caused by the accumulation of various types of molecular and cellular damage over time. This damage is theoretically repairable through the development of comprehensive rejuvenation therapies targeting each specific form of damage. 
  2. He outlined his SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) approach, which identifies seven major categories of aging damage and proposes potential therapies to periodically repair or remove that damage. This includes addressing issues like cell loss, nuclear mutations, mitochondrial mutations, and other biological processes. 
  3. De Grey argued that once these rejuvenation therapies are developed and applied periodically, they could allow people to maintain a physiological age of around 25 indefinitely, thereby escaping age-related diseases and achieving radical life extension. 
  4. He cited the rapid progress in fields like gene therapy, stem cell therapy, and other regenerative medicine approaches as evidence that the required therapies for rejuvenation are becoming increasingly feasible. 
  5. De Grey challenged the notion that “informatic” aspects of aging will make radical life extension impossible in the near future, arguing that nearly all such information can be recovered by existing methods. 
  6. He emphasized the importance of pursuing rejuvenation research more aggressively, as even modest progress could significantly extend the healthy human lifespan and alleviate suffering caused by age-related diseases. 

In summary, Aubrey de Grey’s main argument centered around the idea that aging is a phenomenon caused by accumulated damage that can be repaired through the development of comprehensive rejuvenation therapies, potentially allowing for radical life extension and the indefinite postponement of age-related diseases. 

The argument presented by Dr Peter Fedichev 

Peter Fedichev argued that aging in humans is not a single process with a definite set of regulators that could be used as therapeutic targets. Instead, it is a compound effect of a very large number of independent microscopic failures and as such is stochastic (random) and thermodynamically irreversible. If this is true, it imposes significant limitations on the potential effectiveness of rejuvenation therapies. His key points included: 

  1. Stochastic nature of aging: Fedichev emphasized that aging is driven by random (stochastic) independent microscopic processes that lead to the accumulation of damage over time. This randomness and overwhelming quantity of manifestations of aging makes it inherently difficult to predict and control the aging process through targeted interventions.  
  2. Thermodynamic irreversibility: He argued that certain types of damage associated with aging are thermodynamically irreversible, meaning that they cannot be fully repaired or reversed without achieving full control over all molecular processes in the body, which we are very far from technologically. This challenges the notion that comprehensive rejuvenation therapies can turn aging around. 
  3. Limitations of rejuvenation therapies: Fedichev suggested that while rejuvenation therapies demonstrated so far might offer some benefits, they are unlikely to achieve radical life extension. He estimated that such therapies might only extend human lifespan by around 10-15 years at best, due to the inherent limitations imposed by the stochastic and irreversible nature of aging. 
  4. Focus on practical interventions: He advocated for a more pragmatic approach to aging research, focusing on the development of interventions that can prevent irreversible damage and in this way slow down or even halt human aging. This is, according to Fedichev, the only realistic approach that may yield dramatic life extension in our species with the technology we already have. 
  5. Importance of understanding aging mechanisms: Fedichev highlighted the need for a deeper understanding of the fundamental mechanisms driving aging. He called for developing a theory of aging up to standards attained in physical and engineering sciences and argued that without this level of understanding, it is challenging to develop effective interventions that can significantly impact the aging process. 

In summary, Peter Fedichev’s main arguments centered around the idea that aging is driven by stochastic and thermodynamically irreversible processes, which impose significant limitations on the potential effectiveness of rejuvenation therapies. He advocated for a more pragmatic and yet comparatively radical approach to life-extension, aiming at slowing down and or even halting human aging to achieve negligible senescence of the type already known to nature and demonstrated by negligibly senescent animals. If we could halt aging at the point where the likelihood of dying each year is the same as that of a 40-year-old in developed countries (0.5% annually), the expected remaining lifespan would be 200 years.