It’s often said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, but we may be getting close to cutting that list in half. Thanks to a new field of medicine called rejuvenation biotechnologies, scientists at the SENS Foundation are on the cusp of realizing the millennia-old dream of eternal youth.
“Their involvement in anti-aging is not just about wanting to live forever,” explains Jason Hope, a respected tech investor and philanthropist based in Scottsdale, Arizona. “It’s about creating a longer, better quality of life.”
Hope has supported the SENS Foundation since 2010 when he made a half-million dollar donation to fund a new laboratory in Cambridge, England. He has since given more than $1 million to the organization to support anti-aging research. Hope’s success for predicting technological trends based on market analytics has earned him a reputation as one of the leading futurists in the U.S.
SENS stands for “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence.” The term “negligible senescence” refers to an absence of the symptoms of aging, which is a prominent trait of certain animals like tortoises and hydras. Unlike most organisms, such species’ chances of dying do not increase with age.
Humans, on the other hand, are like vehicles that break down the longer they are driven. Over time, the basic metabolic activities necessary for survival eventually wear down our bodies, which makes us more vulnerable to illnesses. That’s why maladies such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, Parkinson’s and many cancers are sometime called “age-related illnesses.” Although younger individuals can be afflicted by these disease as well, aging is the leading risk factor for most health problems.
— Jason Hope (@JasonHope) October 24, 2016
Rather than focusing on treating individual diseases as they arise, advocates of rejuvenation biotechnologies hope to shift the medical community’s attention to preventative medicine in order to help people live longer, disease-free lives.
“Diseases like Alzheimer’s and heart and lung disease affect all functions of the body,” Hope elaborates. “Traditional medicine looks at treating these diseases after they happen. We want to focus on stopping these diseases from ever happening.”
What are AGE-Breakers?
Jason Hope’s most recent financial gifts are going toward the development of AGE-breakers. AGE-breakers are treatments that target advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs, which are metabolic waste products that build up in our skin and muscle tissue as we grow older. AGEs are responsible for the degradation of skin and blood vessel elasticity among other common symptoms of aging.
Scientists studied AGEs in laboratory animals for decades, but it resulted in little practical use because different species produce different types of AGEs. However, researchers have since discovered that a substance called glucosepane accounts for the majority of AGEs in humans, so investigators at the SENS Foundation are now focusing their efforts on figuring out how to remove glucospane from tissue.
Investors Go All in On Anti-Aging
Jason Hope isn’t alone in his enthusiasm for anti-aging research. Numerous other wealthy investors such as PayPal co-founded Peter Thiel have given to the SENS Foundation recently and in the past. In fact, Thiel’s $3.5 donation in 2006 was responsible for funding the company’s pilot research projects.
Other companies are also investing in the promising new field of rejuvenation biotechnologies. For example, in 2013 Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page invested $100 million into a biotech company called Calico with the ambitious goal of curing age-related illnesses. The company is headed by former Genentech CEO and current Apple chairman Art Levinson.
Although Hope is a professional investor, his work with the SENS Foundation is purely philanthropic. Hope and Thiel are part of a new generation of tech entrepreneurs who want to invest a portion of their wealth toward the future of humanity. On his website, Jason Hope discusses his own personal passion for philanthropy, and he offers advice for other individuals who wish to contribute to scientific and social causes.
While capital is essential to medical research, the real brain behind the SENS Foundation’s operations is British biogerontologist Dr. Aubrey de Grey. As the organization’s Chief Science Officer, de Grey has become a leading voice in the anti-aging field. In a controversial TED Talk, de Grey famously told audience members that the first humans to reach age 1,000 are already living today.
How Will the End of Aging Change the World?
Speaking of which, rejuvenation biotechnologies could completely alter the current paradigm for health care delivery. Eliminating aging would greatly disrupt the pharmaceutical industry since companies currently rely on an ailing, aging populace. Given that the human population is at a record high largely due to advancements in medicine, we will have to consider how more people living longer lives could put additional strain on our already crowded planet.
Of course, as Jason Hope cautions, ending aging isn’t about cheating death. Breakthroughs in rejuvenative medicine are bound to happen soon, but the day when such treatments will become widely available is still very far off. Nonetheless, while it seems unfathomable to imagine that anyone alive today could live to see the year 3,000, it may not be outside the realm of possibility.