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Aubrey de Grey: How & Why We Must Defeat Aging

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“The whole concept of aging itself is just meaningless.”
— Dr. Aubrey de Grey

Greetings, SuperFriends!

Today, we are joined by Aubrey de Grey, biomedical gerontologist and Chief Science Officer of the SENS research foundation, and co-author of the book Ending Aging. You might know Aubrey from his appearances on 60 minutes, the BBC, The New York Times, Fortune, the Colbert Report, or his popular TED Talk. If you’ve heard him speak before, you’ll know that he is one of the chief drivers behind the view that medical technology may one day enable people alive today to live… well, forever.

Through his research on regenerative medicine, and what he calls “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, or SENS,” de Grey has proposed a number of ways to not only slow, but even stop and reverse the effects of age on the human body.

During the episode, we talk about these methods, the effects of aging, and also raise some of the ethical and practical issues surrounding the idea of a-mortality. We talk about learning, and I was just blown away by how much knowledge and expertise my guest has accumulated – and how he has accumulated it. We also have an absolutely fascinating and engaging conversation about the potential of the future, and what humanity may look like in 20 or 30 years. We truly dive into the idea of what it might be to be “superhuman,” and the resulting conversation will definitely blow your mind.

For those of you who really love the heavy, sciencey episodes where we geek out on technical terms, you’re really going to love this episode, and for those of you who don’t, well, you’re going to learn a whole hell of a lot about your body and how it ages, and I’m quite sure you’ll get a kick out of my guest’s combination of jaw dropping wit and dry British humor.


This episode is brought to you by the all new SuperLearner Academy!

This episode is brought to you by SuperLearner Academy – home of my exclusive masterclasses. Check out a free trial using the link above today!

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How did Dr. Aubrey de Grey become one of the leading thinkers in anti-aging and futurism?
  • What tactics has used Dr. Aubrey de Grey to learn so much so fast?
  • Why is aging a “problem” that we need to solve?
  • Is the goal of SENS' work to become immortal? Amortal?
  • Should we worry about the environmental impact of people living to the age of 200?
  • Is there someone living today who will live forever?
  • Does Aubrey de Grey want to live forever? (The answer may surprise you!)
  • An in-depth explanation of the 7 different ways that the human body ages
    • Plus, how researchers are working to beat each one of them
  • Does calorie restriction actually work for extending life expectancy?
  • What will anti-aging treatments look like in 10 years? 20 years? 50 years?
  • Is there anything you can do at home to slow or stop your own aging?
  • What big takeaway would Dr. Aubrey de Grey like you to take away from this episode?

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Favorite Quotes from Aubrey de Grey:

“Everyone must know that aging is the world's most important problem.”
“One of the biggest problems that the world has is that we have to spend most of our time doing things that we wouldn't do if we weren't paid for them.”
“People have in their heads this bizarre idea that there's this thing called ‘aging' itself, which is somehow completely distinct… but that's nonsense.”
“I don't think it's stupid to ask these types of questions… What frustrates me is that people never listen to the answers!”
“You've been watching too many films.”
“Aging is really NOT a phenomenon of biology at all. It's a phenomenon of physics.”
“You see, evolution doesn't care about old people.”
“Magic bullets are a bit of a distraction in aging research.”


Introduction: Welcome to the Becoming SuperHuman Podcast. Where we interview extraordinary people to bring you the skills and strategies to overcome the impossible. And now here's your host, Jonathan Levi.

Jonathan Levi: This episode is brought to you by the all-new SuperLearner Academy. Check it out at and enter the coupon code: podcast for a very exciting discount.

Greeting SuperFriends and welcome to today's show. We won't be starting this week's episode with a review because haven't gotten any new ones this week, guys.

So please take a moment to leave a review on iTunes and or Stitcher and or Google Play. If you're enjoying the show, it really helps us out. Today's episode, we are joined by Aubrey de Grey, a Biomedical Gerontologist and Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation. He's also the co-author of the book Ending Aging.

I love that title. Now, you guys might know Aubrey from his appearances on 60 Minutes, the BBC, New York Times, Fortune, Colbert Report, or from his popular TED Talk. Now, if any of you have heard him speak before, then you'll know that he is one of the chief drivers behind the view that medical technology may and should one day enable people alive today to live forever now through his research on regenerative medicine and what he calls “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence or SENS”. Dr. Degree has proposed a number of ways to not only slow but even stop or reverse the effects of age on the human body. Now, during this episode, we talk about these methods and we talk about the effects of aging. We also raise some of the ethical and moral and practical issues surrounding this idea of human a-mortality. We talk about learning and I think you'll be completely blown away by how much knowledge and expertise that he's managed to accumulate and how actually, how he's gone about accumulating it. I know for me, with my learning background, it was particularly interesting to see how far his knowledge has expanded just from learning as an autodidact.

So, we have an absolutely fascinating and engaging conversation. You guys, about the potential of the future and what humanity may look like in 20 or 30 years, we dive really, really deep into what it might actually be to be SuperHuman. And I think the resulting conversation will definitely blow your mind now. For those of you guys who love the heavy sciency, very technical episodes, where we geek out, I think you're going to really, really love this episode.

And for those of you who maybe we don't like the science-y stuff, well, you're certainly going to learn a lot about your body and the way it ages. I'm quite sure this episode will be a blast for anyone in the audience. And I think you'll all get a kick. Out of Aubrey's combination of jaw-dropping wit and intellect on the one side and this dry, wonderful British humor on the other side.

So without any further ado, you guys, let me present to you, my new SuperFriend, Dr. Aubrey de Grey.

Dr. Aubrey de Grey, welcome to the show. I'm so excited that we got to connect.

Aubrey de Grey: Well, thank you for having me.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah. It's an absolute pleasure. I've been following your work and I have to admit, I'm really looking forward to learning because there's some big questions that I have about what you're doing that I've always had. So looking forward to getting into it.

Aubrey de Grey:  Let's do it.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah, absolutely. So I'll read as I was researching your profile, I came to realize really just how extraordinary your story is. I was a little bit surprised you started out actually as a Computer Science student at Cambridge, and yet somehow today, you're one of the leading thinkers in the field of anti-aging.

So the first question I want to ask and I'm sure our audience is wondering, how did you get from A to B? What does your journey look like? I guess is the question?

Aubrey de Grey:  Yeah, it's quite an interesting journey. It was really a sequence of fortuitous events. The main one being that when I was 26, I had been working, uh, the computer science, artificial intelligence researcher for several years.

And I met a biologist and we got married a year later and she is a lot older than me. She was already a full professor in UC San Diego, and she was actually on sabbatical in England when we met. And so through her, I guess, first of all, there's a lot of biology just kind of by accident over the dinner table, you know, what did he do today that kind of thing. And then after a couple of years, it began gradually to dawn on me that my wife was actually not very interested in aging. She didn't think it was particularly important phenomenon or anything like that. And I realized that it wasn't just her, but actually all the other biologists I was meeting through her, they had the same kind of view and this had just never occurred to me.

It had always been a completely obvious presumption, something that I'd never even bothered to discuss with people, but everyone must know that aging is the world's most important problem. That it causes far more suffering than anything else does. And therefore, it's the thing that we ought to be putting in an almost effort into trying to defeat.

Mm, when I began to realize that this wasn't true, not only in the wider world but within biology, I thought, well, you know, that's, that's what I do really. I mean, the reason I was working in artificial intelligence research in the first place was because of humanitarian reasons. I felt that one of the biggest problems that the world has is that we have to spend most of our time doing things that we wouldn't do.

If we weren't paid for them, you know, just to notice welcoming round and the way it affects that of course is automation. Right? So that was why I went into artificial intelligence research. And I'm pretty sure I would still pay that if it had not been for the fact that I found out that virtually nobody was working on the one problem that I've even more important than the problem with TDM, namely the problem with waiting.

Jonathan Levi: Wow.

Aubrey de Grey:  Of course, I also had to convince myself that I had some respectable chance of making a contribution if I switched fields.

Jonathan Levi: Right.

Aubrey de Grey: But that was actually not too hard of a decision to make. I knew that people actually quite often make a big contribution in a new field after they switched from something completely different.

And also that, you know, research is a very transferable skill. If you established a really good at working on really hard problems. Then you can work in a different area and be just as successful. I had done all right, by that time in artificial intelligence research. So I reckon that with that threat.

Jonathan Levi: Fascinating. So the first thing I noticed is, you know, there's a long learning journey between discussions over the dinner table and getting this kind of cursory knowledge of biology and where you are today at the cutting edge of the research. Walk me through a little bit of your learning process and how you learn so quickly and so effectively,

Aubrey de Grey: Right. Yes. That's another really good question. So the first five years or so that I was really dedicating my time to the biology of aging. It was actually not very difficult. Biology is a very, if feel like a horizontal subject, it doesn't kind of dictate that you have to learn things in a particular order, the way that you would have to end, for example, physics or mathematics.

So having been a reasonably experienced researcher in another field, by that time, it was pretty easy for me to augment what I had learned over the dinner table with all the other areas of biology that my wife was not so expert in just by, you know, stuff, learning just by going and reading stuff.

Whether it's textbooks or mostly actual journal articles. You know, I spent a lot of time in the library in the University of Cambridge back then. And of course, I went to a lot of conferences. I was being paid well enough at that time for a very undemanding bioinformatics job. That was really the main reason why I was able to do this.

I was being paid well enough that I could pay my way to conferences and generally learn a lot that way that was not even published yet. And it also of course get to know the leading members of the field. And I got pretty lucky pretty quickly. I was able to come up with some ideas that were quite well received.

These were initially ideas read as explanations for other people's work. In other words, and hypothesis papers, as opposed to proposals for doing something about aging, but it didn't come until the year 2000. Wow. But yeah, it got going pretty quick.

Jonathan Levi: Wow. So that's interesting. What I take away from that is number one, you're an autodidactic learner.  You know you didn't sit down in classrooms and lectures and stuff like that. And then I also take away that you pursued kind of diverse sources of information. You reinforce your knowledge at conferences with conversations and, and kind of took what I like to call the brute force approach to learning as opposed to just one medium and one method of acquiring knowledge.

Aubrey de Grey: That's all correct? Yes. And actually, one important thing that you highlight there is that diversity, the diversity applied also with regard to what particular areas I was studying. I recognized pretty early on that aging is an extraordinarily complicated phenomenon. It affects the body at every level of organization.

And therefore you have to be an expert in a lot of things in order to understand enough, to be able to make important insights. And so I spent a lot of time going to conferences and reading stuff that was really at the periphery of what biologists who call themselves their ontologists would typically understand.

And that definitely ended up standing me in very good stead later on.

Jonathan Levi: Brilliant. I love that point because I think so many people focus in on a field of knowledge, whether it be computer programming or medicine, and they say, look, I'm going to learn this very specific thing, like Ruby on Rails, web development.

And they don't realize that the incredible value of learning all the periphery because it all forms this beautiful neural network of tangential knowledge that may come in actual use or may just help reinforce your understanding of the entire field. So I think that's a really big takeaway right there.

Aubrey de Grey: Yes. I agree.

Jonathan Levi: So, one thing that you mentioned that that was really interesting. You described aging as a problem. Why is it a problem? I'm going to play devil's advocate. Why is it not a beautiful part of the cycle of life? If you will.

Aubrey de Grey: So the only reason that people have this confusion about this question and the time they will ask about it is because they're starting out with an incoherent idea of what aging is.

Nobody would ask that can, you'd have to ask where the word aging was replaced by the word Alzheimer's disease. Right. Okay. So what's the difference because the question, what is the difference? People have in their heads this bizarre idea that there's this thing called aging itself that is somehow completely distinct from all of the clearly undesirable diseases about age like Alzheimer's or cancer or atherosclerosis or whatever.

But that's nonsense. There is absolutely no biological basis for that concept. The only thing that distinguishes the things that we bracket and, uh, aging itself from the things that we bracket under the diseases of old age, is that we haven't chosen to give disease-like names to the category. That's all it is.

It's purely Symantec. These things are definitely bad for us. They definitely diminish, uh, You know, physical and mental performance and they eventually contribute to making us die. There's no difference. So if one realizes that the whole concept of aging itself is just meaningless. Then the whole question that you just asked goes away.

Jonathan Levi: Interesting. So is the goal than to become a mortal?

Aubrey de Grey: Well, I tend to stare away from one-word condensations like that, but I certainly think that the goal is to maintain peak performance, the same kind of mental and physical performance, every typical young adult, irrespective of how long ago one was born.

So what that functionally means is that one's risk of death would not be increasing as time went on the way it does at the moment, because obviously, the main thing that people die of is being sick. So in that sense, yes, that is the goal. But I tend to like to phrase the goal in terms of one's health and to emphasize the fact that the longevity aspect is simply a side effect.

Jonathan Levi: I do like it when you phrase it that way. I mean, we don't question this idea of everyone should be able to go through life without cancer or Alzheimer's and live to a ripe old age with a helpful kind of approach. I guess the tough question again, a devil's advocate question, and I apologize in advance.

What are your thoughts on the kind of environmental impact and the societal challenges of people who may live to 200 and beyond?

Aubrey de Grey: So, I mean, I don't think it's stupid to ask this, then we'll think about these things. What frustrates me is that people never listen to the answers. They look at questions that are actually really easy to answer.

I'm giving a kind of general answer going beyond your actual question here. And yet, you know, couple still carry on asking the same questions as if we knew. So with respect to the specific issue of problems that might be created as a result of having too many people on the planet. Well, hello, we've already got too many people on the planet, so you might say, well, you know, That means we shouldn't make the problem worse, but the real answer is how do we solve the problem?

And of course, there are plenty of solutions that are being developed all the time and particularly ones that involve increasing the carrying capacity of the planet by reducing the amount of pollution that the average person introduces in particular, you know, renewable energy and nuclear fusion and so on so that we don't need to burn so many fossil fuels.

Jonathan Levi: Sure.

Aubrey de Grey: And of course, more than that, you know, artificial meat so that we don't have to have so much agriculture, you know, lots of things that will increase the carrying capacity of the planet. Do that. Of course, is the fact that with the sole exception of Israel, interestingly, every single society ever that has reached a certain level of female emancipation and education and so on has seen an absolutely precipitous drop in the number of children that the average woman has. As well as an increase in the age at which they have them. Right. So these things, of course, both very greatly attenuate the problem of increasing population.

Jonathan Levi: That is very interesting.

Aubrey de Grey:  But I said I was going to give you a general answer. So let me do that.

The thing that really annoys me is that not only do people not listen to these very specific answers to particular problems, whether it's overpopulation or whether it's, how will we pay the pensions or what dictators live forever and so on. But also there are two extremely powerful general answers that cover all of those concerns.

The first one is a sense of proportion. You know, how bad could these problems be? Even if we didn't find a way around them, would they really be worse than the problem we have today at a hundred thousand people, every single day, worldwide dying of aging? And of course, dying generally after a long period of disease and the crepitation and dependence in general misery, you know, it's absolutely dishonest in my view.

To raise these concerns without, at the same time actually facing up and saying, yes, I believe that these concerns are more serious than the problem we have today. I'm giving an argument for why it's more serious and nobody ever does that. Yeah. And then the other one is that it's a question of, who's entitled to choose.

Jonathan Levi:  Exactly.

Aubrey de Grey: If we don't develop these therapies, if we start to meet people, let's not go there. Right. Then, what we will be doing is essentially containing a cohort of the future, the humanity of the future, to the same kind of, you know, early and miserable and of life that we have today. Whereas, if we get on and develop these things, as soon as possible, then humanity would feature has the option, whether to use those therapies and how to use them and how to get around these particular problems that we might be so apprehensive about.

And it may be either by that time, it's really easy to avoid those problems. And so for, you know, you mostly the future would not be terribly appreciative if they found out that we didn't actually develop these therapy because we thought we knew better than they did. And I don't want to be that kind of person.

Jonathan Levi: That's very fascinating. I mean, I have to admit, you've won me over with the argument because every technology that comes along presents these social challenges. I mean, we're still dealing with the social challenges around the internet, and like, how do we deal with cyberbullying? How do we deal with cybercrime?

Our laws haven't caught up. So I think the main questions that remain, and as you said, it's better to have these problems in answer, these questions are similar to the issues of artificial intelligence and automation who controls, who has access, who has the right? Where do you set the limits? I mean, uh, it's not far-fetched to envision a situation similar to China's one-child policy, which is, you know, 120 policy and then euthanasia.

I mean, it sounds terrible, but these might be actual moral agreements that we have to make as a society, 50 to a hundred years from now.

Aubrey de Grey: Yeah. You've been watching too many films. I mean, you know, that's essentially the plot of Logan's run, of course. And there's a whole bunch of films like that, that start out from absolutely uncritically, assuming that there's going to be a completely unmanageable overpopulation problem, unless we do something really draconian and then making some kind of dramatic story out of whatever.

Whatever draconian thing was chosen. But what I'm saying is that it's actually extremely likely that we won't need any of the draconian policies because we can get random in other ways. You know, universality of access to these therapies. It's a really important thing, but let's remember that you know, this is going to be rather important to people and people are going to vote for it.

It's going to be rather difficult for anyone to get elected unless they've got no policy of making sure that everyone who old enough to need these therapies have access to them.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah. And the thinking is that people alive on this planet today. There are people alive today who will be able to live indefinitely given the time span of the development of this technology?

Aubrey de Grey: That's my prediction. Yes, certainly. It's a speculative prediction because for any technology that's more than even a couple of years out. One really had no idea what the timeframe is actually going to be. But I would say that there's at least an 80% chance that that is true. Well, I would say that there's at least a 50%, at least somebody over the age of 50 will make it.

Jonathan Levi: And I know Ray Kurzweil also agrees with you. I guess the tough question is, do you aspire to be one of those people?

Aubrey de Grey: I certainly aspire to be one of those people who doesn't get sick however old they get and that amounts to the same thing.

Jonathan Levi: Would you aspire to live indefinitely?

Aubrey de Grey: I think that it's actually not terribly smart to have an opinion about how long one wants to live.

It's rather like having an opinion about, you know, what time one wants to go to the toilet next Sunday. What I mean, if you know, one's going to have better information on the topic near the time, right. And one's going to be able to act on that information. You know, I have no idea really whether I wouldn't live to a hundred, but I do know that I'd like to have the choice when I'm 99, rather than having that choice progressively removed from me but my declining health.

Jonathan Levi: Okay. I have to admit, you've convinced me. That's a really strong selling point of let's have the technology, let's have the choice in case we need it. I mean, I know we all wish that, uh, Einstein was still around. I know we all wish that, uh, many great leaders were still around.

Interesting, okay. So, Dr. Grey, I understand that there are seven ways that aging affects the human body. To be honest, I could only think of three in my prep for this interview. So could you tell us a little bit about each of them?

Aubrey de Grey: First of all, what are your three? And I'll see, I'll start from there.

Cognitive decline, obviously disease, and cellular regeneration slowing, and then I guess also metabolism slowing.

Okay. So I just wanted to kind of a feel for the level at which you were describing these things. Yeah. So these things are true, but they are not the types of things my seven are. What you just said are kind of the outcomes, the kind of 40,000-foot level problems that occur.

The seven things that I talk about, uh, very much at the opposite end of the description. In other words, they are things that are really hardcore molecular and cellular phenomena that go on in the body that eventually give rise to the things that you just said. These seven things you can think of them as intermediate between being alive and being dead.

They are types of damage that the body does to itself as consequences, a little bit normal operation and the type of damage that accumulate over time because the body does not have the mechanisms to repair them on its own automatically. And the body is set up to tolerate a certain amount of this damage, but only a certain amount.

So eventually the damage gets to be sufficient to impair physical and mental function. And if we go downhill in the ways that you just described. And of course, you may have noticed that this description of what aging really is could be equally applied to an inanimate object to a car or an airplane or whatever.

That's a really important thing to understand that aging is really not a phenomenon of biology at all. It's a phenomenon of physics and, you know, any machine with moving parts is going to damage itself as a side effect of its normal.

Jonathan Levi: Right? Second law of thermodynamics.

Aubrey de Grey: Pretty much. I mean, it's a little more complicated than that because we export entropy all the time, but.

Jonathan Levi: At an alarming rate.

Aubrey de Grey:  At a very encouraging rate, actually. It's a good thing that we do. But the other point is that this demystifies aging, it helps people to understand that aging is not such a mysterious phenomenon of the way my thing. Okay. So to get back to your specific question, what are these seven things? Yeah, so they're not really certain things.

The seven categories. This is useful because if we have this hugely complicated problem of aging, of various types of damage accumulating, then the first step in addressing age medically is to break it down into smaller problems that can be addressed individually. And that's exactly what's going on here for each of these seven things.

There is a corresponding repair strategy, which may differ in detail between different examples within the category, but only in detail. So the general principle is the same. Okay. So let me get going. The first one is lots of cells so that just means a situation wherein a particular organ or tissue cells are dying and they're not being automatically replaced by the division of other cells.

So of course that means the number of cells is going down and eventually, there won't be enough cells for the organ to do its job and you're straight. Parkinson's disease is a great example of that, but there's a particular part of the brain in which neurons happen to die a lot more rapidly than they do in most parts of the brain.

And in some people, they die usually rapidly and people don't get pockets of disease. And the sex of course is STEM cell therapy. That's what STEM cell therapy is. We program cells in the lab into a state so that we can inject them into the body and they will divide. And transmogrify into a state that replaces the.

So that the body would not replacing and it's fine. And that's exactly what's being done right now in clinical trials for Parkinson's disease. And people are very optimistic, but it's going to work. Then there are two ways to the next two categories are ways in which you can have too many cells rather than too few.

The first way is by cells dividing when they're not supposed to. And of course, that's cancer, right? That's what cancer is. And there are many people working on different ways to fix cancer. Of course, we actually, at SENS Research Foundation are working on a particular approach that involves controlling the way in which cells can extend the ends of their chromosomes.

They are called the telomeres. This is not a new idea in itself, but we're seeing it in a much more aggressive way than anyone else has before. Especially more comprehensive. And one of the things I should mention right here is that at the moment we are in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign to raise some money for one little component of that project, namely the elucidation of a particular mechanism, that's some cancer, about 15% of cancer views. To extend the telomeres.

There's an enzyme we have called telomerase, which is what STEM cells use to extend their telomeres. And most cancers use that same enzyme, but some of them don't and we need to understand how they do this telomere extension. Without telomerase in order to be able to stop them doing it.

So that's a vital component of what we do and we're trying to raise some money for it right now. So if you go to, our website, you'll see all the campaigns and we'd be delighted if people would donate.

Jonathan Levi: Absolutely.

Aubrey de Grey: So that's one part of how you can help too many cells. The other way you can have too many cells, which is easy to ignore is when cells don't die when they are supposed to, you might think, well, hang on.

Cells were never meant to die, but that's not true. There are certain cases. The immune system is probably the most conspicuous example where absolutely so need to die in order to make room for other cells to divide later up. And this doesn't work so well in the elderly. So what we're doing is developing a way to get rid of those cells.

Even though the body has lost the ability to get rid of them. This is something quite analogous. There's some that has had a lot of attention over the past few years, getting rid of another type of what you might call death resistance cell. That's not part of the immune system, but are also things to do harm.

People showed in me so far that this seems to be something that is very beneficial. And the main way that it's been shown have been with artificial genetic models, but the great progress being made in developing drugs that can do the same thing. So this is one of a success story in the sense that it's an idea that we've been pursuing for 10 years and other people are cutting up and actually getting certain aspects of it working.

So this is a very important area that's now accepted as a critical component of texting aging. Okay, so that's three things so far, the other four are all at the molecular level rather than the cellular level. So two of them are inside cells, things that happen inside the cell that we need to fix. One of those is the accumulation of mutations in this very special part of the cell called the mitochondria.

 Mitochondria, people often call it the energy source of the cell. They are the place where the chemistry of breathing happens, where oxygen is combined with nutrients that we have eaten in order to extract energy from our nutrients and mitochondria are very special in one other way, namely, they have their own DNA. I only part of the cell does.

The DNA is very small. It only encodes 13 proteins, as opposed to, you know, the tens of thousands of proteins that come from the nucleus, but still that proteins are vital. And when the mitochondrial DNA accumulates damage, then we have a problem. It turns out that the mitochondrial DNA does accumulate damage much, much, much more rapidly than nuclear DNA.

So we are trying to implement an idea that was first put forward more than 30 years ago. Namely to make backup copies of the mitochondrial DNA in the nucleus, where it has all the protections. But the rest of the nuclear DNA has. And the idea is we would modify the DNA in such a way that even though it was now in the wrong place, the proteins would be redirected back into the mitochondria.

And this isn't so ambitious as it may sound because the fact is that naturally we already have this thing going on. Protests going on for more than a thousand other proteins that are already naturally encoded in the nucleus, but they ended up in the mitochondria. So we're kind of trying to co-op that, and it's not easy.

People have tried and failed a lot over the years, but we're a lot less than anyone else has ever been. So we think we can do this.

Jonathan Levi: Wow.

Aubrey de Grey: The other thing that happens inside the cell is a very simple thing to inscribe and explain it's simply the accumulation of waste products of garbage. When the cell does stuff, you know, waste products are generated all the time and a waste product that is generating at a rapid rate.

Turned out never to be a problem in aging because the rapidity means that this nothing was done about it, then we would die really quickly. So the body has developed ways to get rid of any waste product that is accumulated rapidly, whether it's graded rapidly, either by destroying it or by excavating it.

And there are certain diseases of childhood lysosomal storage diseases, which are genetic, lead-based the grumbles of failures do this where one of the important mechanisms is broken. But in new people that, that doesn't happen. The only thing that does happen though, is that it turns out, unfortunately, there are some types of garbage that are created really, really slowly, really rarely, which means they accumulate slowly.

And that means that they're not a problem for our health until old age and evolution doesn't care about old people. Because by that, I mean, it's not a straightforward statement because you see, by the time you're old, you're expected to have already reproduced and therefore revelation is done with you.

Jonathan Levi: Right.

Aubrey de Grey: So these things, you know, we don't have mechanisms to get rid of them. And so what we're doing is we're trying to develop new ways to augment the body's ability to break things down, or to excrete them, especially to break them down. And that generally means going to the rest of the natural world. Bacteria in particular, tend to have a lot of versatility that can break amazingly diverse things down.

And in general, it seems to be possible to find bacteria that can break down a particular target compound that we can't and call it a problem. An example of what kind of problem is atherosclerosis, which is caused by the accumulation of oxidized cholesterol. And so we find bacteria that can do that. And then we find out how we find the genes and enzymes that they have that allow them to do it.

And then we introduce those genes into human cells and thereby we give the cells the ability to break down oxidized cholesterol, and therefore not be poisoned by it. And we've actually already done this in cell culture. Three years ago, we were able to publish a very good demonstration of that. We still have some way to go to actually get, to get working in mice, and so on, but we think we can do it.

Same applies to macular degeneration, which is the major cause of blindness in the elderly that's phenomenon. But it also caused by the accumulation of garbage inside the cell different types of garbage. And we're going about fixing that money the same way. All right. So I'm up to five now, two left and the other two, uh, types of damage, uh, things that happen outside the cell in the spaces between cells.

The first one that is again, simply, waste products. And the reason I list that separately as a different category from waste product inside the cell is because the way to fix it is different. As I mentioned at the beginning reason for the classification, it because for each category, there is a different way to go about repairing it.

In this case, it turns out that the repair is really easy. All you need to do is relocate the garbage because it turns out that the machinery we have outside the cell naturally for breaking things down is really primitive, far less sophisticated than what we have inside the cell. And that means that stuff accumulates outside of the cell, that simply would not accumulate if it were inside the cell.

So we just get it inside the cell and its toast. And it turns out that that's not very hard to do. You can activate the immune system against this stuff. And certain immune cells simply gobble it up. And then it's inside the cell and it goes away.

This has already been accrued even in clinical trials, in the case of the best-known example of garbage outside the cell, which is the amyloid that accumulates in the brain and Alzheimer's disease. And it really works. We can now very thoroughly eliminate the amyloid in Alzheimer's disease. On its own, that doesn't give much cognitive benefit to most people who suffer Alzheimer's simply because that's only one aspect of Alzheimer's disease, but it's something that we have in our back pocket that will be able to be combined with other future therapies. So I think it's very important anyway. And of course, there are other areas of the body that accumulate garbage outside the cell, for which the garbage may be the main problem and age.

There's a type of heart failure that we're working on right now, for which that seems to be true. And we've already got antibodies that can trigger the elimination of that corresponding type of garbage outside the cell in the heart. So finally you saw that, right?

Jonathan Levi: I am still here. I'm learning so much as we go along. My head's spinning, but continue.

Aubrey de Grey: Fairly good. Okay. So the very last one is stiffening loss of elasticity of tissues. This happened because of chemical reactions that occur between certain proteins in the tissue and sugar in the circulation. The proteins in question are ones that make up a kind of lattice called the extracellular matrix.

And that's a really important part of, of tissues because it gives them that biophysical properties, their stiffness, in particular, they need that. That's definitely sometimes. So an example is the walls of our major arteries. The reason we get high blood pressure and then all the age is basically because the major arthritic becomes stiffer and they can't respond so well to the pulsation of the heartbeat.

So, what we need to do is to restore elasticity in these tissues. And that means essentially going in and clinically attacking the trenches that have occurred as a result of this chemical reaction between sugar and proteins and the nature of that chemical reaction and the nature of the chemical essential bond, the chemical bonds between these proteins that are the ultimate source of the stiffening.

That's all been sorted out for some time. Way back, but nobody's been able to do anything about it. Essentially. There are, it's just been a difficult problem to address, to figure out how to break these things, but we're much closer than we ever were before. There's a fantastic group, uh, Yale University in the US and another group that we're funding just outside Cambridge that are extraordinarily talented, organic chemists.

The group at Yale already made a critical breakthrough about a year ago. That essentially involves being able to synthesize large amounts of the type of chemical structure we're interested in, in the laboratory. That's a vital enabling technology so that we can do things like rating antibodies against it.

And so it's like, and that was actually published in Science magazine, the most important science publication in the world about six or eight months ago. So we're very happy about how that product is going. We've made far more progress than anyone's made in the past 20 years.

Jonathan Levi: Wow. Wow. Congratulations. That's incredible. Absolutely incredible. I have to admit that my mind is blown because I was expecting, you know, one or two or three mechanisms to reverse aging, but it seems it's such a diverse to use your word problem with so many diverse sources. I once gave a TEDx lecture and in the same day, I shared the stage with Dr. Shaya Fratti who talked about reversing aging using cryotherapy.

 And so I thought that you know, maybe that it was going to be a one bullet solution kind of catch-all all though. We can do so many different things in the body with this one tool. I think it's really interesting. How many different mechanisms you mentioned for reversing each of these seven different modes of aging or byproducts.

Aubrey de Grey: Yeah, you're right. I mean, you know, seven is still a manageable number, but these are tricky things to implement. Magic bullets are a bit of a distraction in aging research because they're so seductive, right? I mean, a lot of things can actually give ostensibly promising results really easily and people get, you know, So do you buy them and think, Oh, okay, maybe that's all we need to do.

In fact, most people, we work on the biology of aging for the past 20 years or more have been guilty of this. They've been working generally on things that in one way or another seeking to emulate the phenomenon of calorie restriction, which was discovered about eight years ago, it was shown that if you gave a mouse or a rat, maybe 30 or 40% less food than it would like, then it will live maybe 30 or 40% longer.

Jonathan Levi: Wow.

Aubrey de Grey: No, the fascinating result. And it took a while for people even to realize how important it was. But ever since let's say the 1970s, people have been really interested in this, and in the 1980s and '90s, people figured out how to emulate it genetically in certain organisms. And now we've got things that can emulate it pharmacologically.

Sounds fascinating, doesn't it? And you'd think, well, it makes sense that most gastroenterologists, uh, focused on this. But actually, it makes no sense at all. Because it's been completely clear for a very long time that this phenomenon of life extension from calorie restriction works much less well in longer-lived species than in short-lived species and species that live only a few weeks.

You can get them to live maybe three or four times as long as they normally would just by starving them in the right way in mice or rats, you cannot, you can only get 30 or 40%, 30 40% you know, that's still nothing to sneeze at, but if you do it with dogs, do you want to get 10%? If you do it with monkeys, you only get a couple of percents, if you're lucky.

And on top of all that, the amount that you get depends on what age you start at. The later you start in life, the less the benefit. So really, you know, as a human being, it's absolutely not the way to go. And yet vast numbers of people are spending a large amount of time and money trying to make it work.

Jonathan Levi: I'm glad to hear you say that because we talk so much on the show about, you know, eating enough and eating enough of the right foods and giving your body enough calories to support physical exercise and all this stuff, you know, at the beginning of your sentence, I was like, Oh dear God, I'm screwed.

Right. Dr. de Grey, I want to ask you, you know, so many of these things are developing technologies, things that are going to need, it sounds like to be done in labs or at doctor's offices and things that are not going to be accessible to the average everyday human. It also sounds like it's going to be a lot of work to reverse aging.

What do you think that looks like a treatment regimen? Does it look like daily visits to, or weekly visits to seven different specialists?

Aubrey de Grey: Well, so we certainly don't know at this point how it's going to look, what we can say is that the way it's going to look will change over time. Initially, you know, everyone's going to be desperate to get hold of these things as soon as they even slightly work.

So, you know, initially, I guess it's probably going to be rather clunky. You know, there's going to be lots of going into the hospital and maybe staying there a long time and maybe there's going to be surgery involved and so on, but you know, one way or another it'll just about work. But as time goes on rather rapidly, I expect the more onerous and unattractive aspects of the, especially the more invasive ones will be phased out in favor of things that work more straightforwardly just by injections or by even by oral administration.

Right. And the more things can move in that direction. The more options there are four things being administered now every week or every year, rather than every 10 years or whatever.

Jonathan Levi: Wow. Yeah. And I think you accurately pinpointed that I've watched too many movies because it sounds a lot like a, in a hundred years, we may have a sort of Elysium phenomenon where you have a, almost at-home treatment of just about anything that can ale you.

Yeah, incredible. So I want to try and jump. I mean, typically we try to give them give as many practical and applicable takeaways for the audience to put into their daily lives. But I guess the question here is. Is there anything people in the audience can do by themselves? Just given what the research shows to actually slow the effects of aging.

Aubrey de Grey: So the frivolous answer is absolute. The thing to do is to give me like amounts of money so that we can get this work done faster. But the serious answer, unfortunately, is that the only thing you can do is give me large and lots of money. But nothing works. You know, we've got lots of ways to keep you a little bit healthier for a little bit longer, but only a little bit.

And even that doesn't seem to have much effect in terms of, I mean, the effects are more the compression of the amount of time that you have. That you're unhealthy rather than the postponement of that time. We absolutely just have to rely on new therapies coming along. And that means that the sooner they come along, the better.

Jonathan Levi: All right. So then that's a really good segue. If people do want to learn more about your work and check out what you're doing, and of course, as you put it, give you loads of money, where should we send them?

Aubrey de Grey: So, absolutely go to, S E N That's our website.

Jonathan Levi: Awesome.

Aubrey de Grey: And you know, it, there's a nice, big, friendly donate button, but there's also, of course, absolutely everything you could possibly want to know. If you want more information than what I've been able to transmit today about the science, written at every level, but stuff written very much for the nonspecialist that also stuff that much more technical, all of our research papers, there, all our other activities, like our education initiative, but it discussed in some detail.

Jonathan Levi: Brilliant. Brilliant. You touched actually on my next question, which is if people do want to follow in your footsteps of being an autodidactic learner in the field of anti-aging, where would you recommend they start? What are some books, resources, stuff like that, even conferences that you would recommend them check out?

Aubrey de Grey: Well, if we actually have questions weeks quickly, then the answer is basically I have no idea because I had, you know, an enormous amount of luck, I guess, within the right place at the right time, in many ways. But to answer a slightly more broad question, like how does one make a contribution in this area?

Absolutely go to our website. You'll be able to find lots of stuff about that. One thing we do in our education initiative is we organize internships both in our own facility in California. And also in the various labs that we found. So youngsters typically at undergraduate level, who are aspiring to get involved in all of this can spend a month or two in summer doing exactly that.

And that program has been very successful over the past four to six years now. So that's definitely one way to go. Also, of course, you can always write to us and ask questions and we're very good at responding to such things and giving advice as to what a particular person, depending on their circumstance, it might be able to do to help.

So yeah, absolutely. That's the way to go.

Jonathan Levi: Brilliant. So final question, Dr. de Grey, if people take away one lesson, one kind of big takeaway from this episode and they carry it with them for the rest of their lives, what would you hope for that to be.

Aubrey de Grey: I guess if I have to give one message. It would simply be aging is not something to venerate. It is something to think of as a medical problem that we will in due course be able to defeat. In just the same way that we have to feed most infectious diseases already. And as soon as that happens, the better.

Jonathan Levi: Incredible, Dr. de Grey. Thank you so much for sharing your time with us today. I know you're traveling about like crazy and you're a very busy man, so I certainly appreciated it.

I know our audience appreciate it. And we'll learn a ton from this episode. So thank you again for your time.

Aubrey de Grey:  Mazal tov. Thank you.

Jonathan Levi: All right. You take care. Have a great day.

Aubrey de Grey: Bye-bye.

Jonathan Levi: All right, SuperFriends, that's it for this week's episode. We hope you really, really enjoyed it and learn a ton of applicable stuff that can help you go out there and overcome the impossible.

If so, please do us a favor and leave us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. Or however, you found this podcast. In addition to that, we are always looking for great guest posts on the blog or awesome guests right here on the podcast. So if you know somebody or you are somebody, or you have thought of somebody who would be a great fit for the show or for our blog, please reach out to us either on Twitter or by email or email is Thanks so much.

Closing: Thanks for tuning in to the Becoming SuperHuman Podcast. For more great skills and strategies, or for links to any of the resources mentioned in this episode, visit We'll see you next time.



  1. Luiz
    at — Reply

    Thanks, I learned a lot of interesting things in past episodes.

  2. Shivaditya Purohit
    at — Reply

    loved th heart and the depth of the conversation. The way that Dr. Metivier shared from his enormous experience and insights was just amazing. Thank you Jonathan for doing this podcast!! 🙂

  3. Rob
    at — Reply

    Great interview with Dr. Greg Wells! He mentioned a doctor from Colorado around the 42:30 point of the podcast, discussing turmeric and black pepper. I couldn’t make out the doctor’s name. Can you provide me with his full name and maybe his website or contact info. Interested in his products.



  4. Muhammed Sani Ibrahim
    at — Reply

    I am new here, and learning really fast.
    Thank you.

  5. Leonia
    at — Reply

    Maybe oarts of the things he has to share are right, maybe not. If I look at him which impact his nurturing and living style has on himself I see a very old looking man! He is year 1973!! That is not old and he looks definitly much older!! If I would not know his birthyear I would guess that he is in his mid-60ies!! A bit concering for someone who claims his lifestyle is suitable for a long life, isn’t it?

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