How Beer, Oprah and Sergey Brin Can Help Cure Aging

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Aubrey de Grey doesn’t care if you live forever. He just wants you not to get sick. It’s not exactly an easy-to-grok distinction, but that doesn’t stop the British gerontologist from trying.

In recent years, de Grey has emerged as the most recognizable, outspoken and controversial cheerleader for regenerative medicine. In 2003, he co-founded the Mprize to encourage research into boosting longevity in mice. In 2006, Technology Review offered $20,000 to anyone who could disprove de Grey’s anti-aging proposals (no one won). In 2009, the computer scientist-turned-biologist co-founded the SENS Organization to help fund labs targeting the seven age-related problems identified by de Grey.

And this past April, de Grey’s Methuselah Foundation launched a new prize for — get ready — growing and transplanting a viable human organ. To catch up with de Grey, crossed the pond to London and joined him for “lunch” (two pints each of London Ale). During a long chat at a pub a few blocks from his mother’s house in Chelsea, de Grey explained the differences between scientists and technologists, why Sergey Brin won’t give him any money, and how a steady diet of beer guides his thinking.

Read More What’s more frustrating: Answering questions about SENS (“Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence“) or questions about your beard?

Aubrey de Grey: To be honest, neither are particularly frustrating. So long as I can actually get through to people, I don’t care how I do it. Most scientists will get serious media exposure about twice in their entire career. And they’ll get that because they’ve actually done an experiment that was interesting.

Well, I don’t even do experiments, right? [laughs] And I’m in the media all the bloody time. I’ve been out there represented as an immortality merchant since forever. These days, I can afford to not just acquiesce and let journalists use phrases like “immortality,” or at least not in the title of the bloody ass thing. What’s more frustrating: Answering questions about SENS (“Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence“) or questions about your beard?

Aubrey de Grey: To be honest, neither are particularly frustrating. So long as I can actually get through to people, I don’t care how I do it. Most scientists will get serious media exposure about twice in their entire career. And they’ll get that because they’ve actually done an experiment that was interesting.

Well, I don’t even do experiments, right? [laughs] And I’m in the media all the bloody time. I’ve been out there represented as an immortality merchant since forever. These days, I can afford to not just acquiesce and let journalists use phrases like “immortality,” or at least not in the title of the bloody ass thing. It’s been a decade since you established the principles behind SENS. What’s been the most striking piece of data to support your hypotheses?

de Grey: That’s an incredibly difficult question because the nature of the whole SENS approach is divide and conquer. There are so many different technologies being brought together, so picking one across the whole board would be almost farcical.

However, I want to pick up on one particular word you used, which was to call the whole thing a hypothesis. I don’t really like to call my proposal a hypothesis, because you don’t call technological proposals hypotheses; you call scientific proposals hypotheses.

I’ve always found that basic scientists who are interested in testing hypotheses think very differently from technologists who are interested in, you know, changing the world in some way. A large part of the difficulties I’ve had in getting my colleagues in gerontology to really understand what I’m saying is that they’re all scientists and not really technologists. In this case what I’m saying is if we implement SENS properly, comprehensively, then it will actually postpone age-related ill health substantially. And we certainly don’t have any data plus or minus on that because, of course, we haven’t implemented it yet, right? True.

de Grey: However, to come back to your question [laughs], there’s been masses. In fact, the single best metric, the single best piece of evidence giving an impression of how fast things are moving and have been moving, is what happened with my book: The hardback came out in 2007. When they published a paperback edition a year later, we were given the chance to update the text. They didn’t want us to do too much because, you know, it’s work. But it was impossible not to do too much. So we ended up simply writing an entire new chapter, an afterword. That was how much there was. It took a whole regular-sized chapter just to cover one year of development across all of the various SENS components. I’m glad you brought up the differences between scientists and technologists. At age 30, you switched fields from artificial intelligence to biology. It’s been said people who switch fields at relatively late stages in their careers tend to do particularly inventive work. Why is that, and what from your previous scholarship did you bring to gerontology?

de Grey: First of all, research is a very transferable skill. If you’ve learned how to work on really hard problems, you can apply that to a different domain very easily. But the biggest handicap in research is an ability to think outside the box. The handicap is being encumbered by all the conventional wisdom in a given field.

I came in having made — albeit unpublished but nevertheless very significant — inroads in software verification. So I had a suitably high opinion of my own abilities to research. Second, I was aware of this general trend in science of new people coming in, so I felt confident I had a good chance of making a contribution. Third, from the beginning my goal was not to become an experimentalist with a lab, but a generalist surveying the literature and coming up with syntheses from disparate areas.

Through my wife, who taught me biology, I was very much aware that “theoreticians” or generalists are almost non-existent in biology. Unlike physics, where you’ve got whole departments of theoreticians trying to bring ideas together from disparate areas, and pacing up and down and talking to themselves and not doing experiments … in biology, that’s virtually unknown.

And to the extent it is known, it’s given very little respect, because it’s awfully easy to do incredibly bad theoretical biology just by going out and identifying some interesting problem and reading maybe 10 percent of the relevant literature and coming out with some gloriously economical hypothesis and rushing into print without actually bothering to read the other 90 percent. This happens a hell of a lot.

But the thing is, a small coterie of theoreticians in biology who do take care have a rather high hit rate. If you look at winners of the Nobel Prize in biology, you’ll find a fair smattering of people who don’t know how to work a pipette. The results from research into mouse longevity won’t necessarily be directly applicable to human biology. Nevertheless, you’ve made it clear such work is vital for getting someone like Oprah to help champion the anti-aging cause. When do you foresee yourself getting that kind of exposure?

de Grey: Someone like Oprah is not really too keen to get too close in bed with people who don’t have mainstream credentials and authority. But it’s really changing fast. A month or two ago, one of my colleagues, Tony Atala, who runs an enormous group working in tissue engineering at Wake Forest, was on Oprah. He’s on my research advisory board and is associated with my journal and so on. Even though his work is not mainly focused on aging, the show was basically about aging. He was very, very gung-ho about the potential for regenerative medicine to postpone aging in the relatively foreseeable future. And mice are the key.

de Grey: I do think it’s going to start with mice. What’s going to happen is the curmudgeons — the card-carrying gerontologists who think it’s very dangerous to be over-optimistic — will eventually recognize the data available to us from mice is so solid we can go out publicly and say, “It’s only a matter of time.” That’s going to take a panel of interventions in mice that’s so comprehensive we actually add two whole years to the lifespan of mice that are already in middle age before we start.

That may be overcautious. We may be able to get gerontologists on board with a more modest result than that. However, at that point, game over. My job will be done. I can retire. Because that will be the point when Oprah will be all over it and the following day it will become impossible to get elected unless you have a manifesto commitment to have a war on aging.

And there will be abundant people who are better than me at all the things I have to do at the moment, and I will no longer be necessary. And I shall fade away into glorious obscurity and you won’t be able to find me, even if you offer me a beer. Well, you’ll be in a pub probably.

de Grey: Yes, but I won’t be in a pub with a journalist. [laughs] Two years ago, you told that funding for your work was increasing every year. How has funding been since then?

de Grey: Very uneven. Obviously, last year was particularly bad for everybody. It was certainly bad for us, too. But looking at the overall trajectory, we haven’t succeeded in getting as much as a doubling year-on-year and we are determined to catch up. This year we have hopes of doing better. The main reason for that is the big restructuring of the foundation. Right, what happened there?

de Grey: In the beginning, the only thing the Methuselah Foundation did was the longevity prizes for mice. Then, we started funding research directly. We thought it was a really cool idea to have one organization with two very complementary approaches to the same mission. But in fact, it didn’t really work, especially not in terms of messaging.

You want prizes to be ways to attract people who get scared when you talk about science for more than ten seconds. So the language has to be very glitzy and superficial and populist. Whereas, a foundation that’s trying to get money to put toward research, you want to look really knowledgeable and responsible and low-key.

Eventually, we bit the bullet and split the foundation in two. Now they operate separately with no overlap of personnel at all. I’m not associated with the Methuselah Foundation anymore, except informally as an advisor. Conversely, SENS is optimizing our messaging and we feel good about how things are going, but certainly we need far more money. We have a big shopping list. Are you optimistic you’ll eventually get what you need?

de Grey: The things I’m telling you now are exactly what I was saying, more or less, five years ago or more. And so you may be thinking, what’s wrong? Why isn’t this message working? I have had a lot of exposure, and a lot of success in calling the bluff of people who have politically motivated reasons to try to marginalize what I’m saying. Clearly, there are people out there who understand aging is bad for you. Just like me.

So what’s missing? How come I haven’t got a lot of money?

The answer is simply that you need three things for a high-net-worth individual to put money into something like this, whether it be as a donation or an investment: 1) You’ve got to believe the goal is valuable. 2) You’ve got to believe the plan to solve that goal is feasible or at least promising. 3) You’ve got to believe the organization you’re thinking of giving the money to actually has the ability to execute it.

That’s why I’m optimistic right now. Splitting the foundation is the first step toward that. It has allowed us to really refine our messaging, but it also means we were able to bring people in new people. Now, as a team, we can inspire a vastly greater amount of confidence in the people who already are familiar with what we do, but have been holding back.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a very good thing more research is going to be done on Parkinson’s Disease. Sergey Brin discovering he is susceptible to Parkinson’s and promptly began plugging some insane amount of money into research. It’s an absolute disgrace it takes personal risk to get someone as supposedly intelligent as Sergey Brin to actually do something. And the only excuse I can give him, since he’s been aware of my stuff since like 2003, is that he looked at me and my organization and said, “Hmm, like the goal. Like the plan. Don’t like the organization.” And he hasn’t told me this face to face, but that’s my guess. For most of the billionaire philanthropists that travel in the same circles you do, out of the three things, is it mainly that they just don’t like your organization?

de Grey: I think for a very large, a very sufficient proportion of such people, yes, it’s that third thing. Because I see these people a lot. I go to TED, and there’s no holding back when it comes to 1) the desirability of the goal, and 2) the demonstration of sufficient comprehension of what I’m talking about to understand they believe the plan is feasible. So yes, absolutely. So it’s personal then?

de Grey: I’d say it’s not even personal. When you’ve got a lot of money and people know you’ve got a lot of money, obviously everyone’s after it. You’ve got to have some way of deciding how to spend it.

And I have a good deal of sympathy with the idea the Methuselah Foundation didn’t really give the right degree of professional persona that would give the right degree of confidence. It’s something we couldn’t necessarily fix overnight, either. It’s something that can only be built up over time, especially with management, the business side going out and actually communicating with these people the same way I have historically been. The Methuselah Foundation did look a bit too much like a simple fan club. I was the only person going out having any contact [with potential donors]. Technology Review’s challenge concluded your ideas were in the “yet to be tested middle ground.” That was five years ago. Are you satisfied with the research and data that’s cropped up since then?

de Grey: Of course I’m not satisfied, because we haven’t had enough money to push things forward as fast as we could. But the very idea one would criticize a technological proposal in that sort of language epitomizes what I said earlier about the confusion that scientists and technologists have.

In particular, scientists’ insistence on evaluating technology ideas by scientific criteria. The scientific method actually correctly uses the most direct evidence as the most reliable, because that’s the way you are least likely to get led astray into dead ends and to misunderstand your data.

But if you tried to do technology like that, then we’d probably try to fly by flapping, because that’s what we see, right? Gerontology needed a completely different type of thinking, a more lateral type of thinking, which is what technology is all about. So to try to condemn a particular technological proposal on scientific grounds is just embarrassing. It’s just completely embarrassing. When do you think the NewOrgan Prize might be awarded?

de Grey: The answer depends on the final rules in terms of regulatory approval and clinical trials and availability and so on. In terms of the underlying technology to create an organ, to make an organ that can be transplanted and work without any follow-up treatments like immunosuppression or anything, I think we could be quite close. I would say there’s at least a 50/50 chance the prize will be won in five years. Which organ seems the most promising?

de Grey: It’s an excellent question, and really I don’t know. The glorious thing about tissue engineering, if you need to make something that has the right function, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the right shape or size or anything like that. There’s lots of different possibilities. I mean the most work is probably going on in the heart, but they’re all pretty much neck and neck. You have a knack for concocting acronyms like WILT (Whole-body Interdiction of Lengthening of Telomeres). How difficult was translating all of these difficult concepts into ideas the average person might get interested in?

de Grey: It’s not easy for me to look back and say how difficult it was, because I feel I’ve solved all those problems now. I feel we have pretty much the optimum messaging at all levels of detail.

At the short level when people say, “What’s the big idea?” All I have to say is “regenerative medicine applied to aging.” And if I’m allowed three sentences I’ll say, “Regenerative medicine needs to be defined a bit more broadly than one colloquially defines it. Because it needs to be a molecular regenerative medicine where we restore the structure inside a cell or in the extracellular space as well as doing it at the cellular level, which are what stem cell therapy and tissue engineering are mainly about.” [ed. note: That’s two sentences.]

But that’s all I have to say in order to refine the accuracy of the concept a little bit more. And then if we go further I’ll say, “Well there are these seven things….” See, exactly. You call it the “Seven Deadly Things,” which obviously evokes something familiar.

de Grey: There used to be nine, but I luckily realized there were actually good biological reasons to subsume two of them into the others [laughs]. Convenient.

de Grey: Yes, this was not lost on me. So you’ve obviously put a lot of effort into messaging. Yet, you say your ideas are often misconstrued and misrepresented.

de Grey: I’ve found it frustrating the media, especially, are pretty much fixated on the longevity aspects and not on the health aspects. It wouldn’t annoy me so much if it was not so overdone. But even the most highbrow write-ups, like one in The Economist a couple of years ago for example, every single one has the word “immortality” or “living forever” in the title of the article. It does wind me up a little bit. Why do you suppose they do that?

de Grey: Sells papers. You don’t have to ask me, you’re the journalist. Press also helps get funding, no?

de Grey: No, rather the opposite. It makes it sound like entertainment. It sounds like science fiction and not real science. It really actively detracts from my ability to get funding. What’s your take on Ray Kurzweil [who takes 200 pills every day in the hopes of extending his life long enough to witness the Singularity]?

de Grey: Ray and I are not nearly so far apart as you might think. Your average person is going to get to the age of 80 without too much trouble anyway. There’s basically nothing we can do to give you more than a year or two if you’re lucky. And it’s distinctly dubious whether we can even get that.

But that’s not the case for people who have drawn a few short straws. Ray is emphatically one such person. He has a lot of cardiovascular disease in his family; he came down with Type II diabetes in his 30s, which is not unheard of, but pretty rare. And he’s pretty honest about this. He says he knows perhaps 10 percent of the things he’s taking every day are bad for him. But just evidently not very bad, and he doesn’t know which 10, right? So, it’s not so crazy.

By contrast, I’ve been lucky enough to have had these very thorough, comprehensive tests that look at 150 different things in your blood and all manner of physiological and cognitive tests, as well. And I always do really well for my chronological age. Last time I did it was when I was probably 44, and I came out 29. So I’m not complaining really.

That means I have to take the opposite view. I would have to be cautious about taking something even if it had already been clearly proven to be beneficial for the average person, because I’m not the average person. It’s an if it ain’t broke don’t fix it thing. How often do you get your blood work done?

de Grey: Every three or four years. What do you look for?

de Grey: The only thing I look for is things that appear to be out of whack, that seem to be, according to regular interpretations, worrying. But then I don’t necessarily worry. I look at what that’s supposed to mean. I look in the detail of what it comes down to.

For example, one thing that was worryingly high for me last time and the time before was homocysteine which is something people are supposed to care about because they have lots of supposed implications. But all my other indicators in terms of oxidative stress in the blood were really good. So somehow or other the generalization doesn’t work for me.

This is one thing I always say to people when they ask me, “What should I do?” I always say, “Don’t generalize. Don’t just read a book and think, ‘Okay I’ll do that.’ The number one thing is to listen to your body and do what your body is telling you to do.” There’s a good chance mitochondrial mutations may not necessarily be all that important to aging.

de Grey: That’s right. Out of the seven things, that’s the only one where we cannot identify a particular major age-related pathology for which the thing in question is the dominant driver. Why put any time or resources towards solving a problem that may actually not be a problem?

de Grey: That’s easy. Different experts are working on these different areas, so it’s not as though we’re taking any valuable resources away from one to put into another. And we’d feel pretty fucking silly if we fixed all these other six things and then people carried on dying on schedule and we found out we hadn’t actually taken the trouble to do the work to fix the problems with mitochondrial mutations at the same time. So my view has always been to be inclusive, to fix everything that might matter. On the other hand, cancer is probably going to be the toughest.

de Grey: I feel that’s true, yes. Yet, it’s already an area with significant funding and research.

de Grey: Well, you’ve got to look at it closely; 99.9 percent is going into ways in which we might delay cancer by 10 years. Which is a fine goal if you don’t expect to delay anything else by 10 years, right? But hello [laughs], it’s no good for me. So, to be perfectly honest, it’s a pretty stupid way of estimating the promise of a therapy in the first place.

Even if things don’t move forward, incrementally they still move forward. And that’s why cancer has now caught up with cardiovascular disease in the U.S. as a cause of death. We need to put a little bit more money into the much more aggressive, longer-term, more ambitious but nevertheless eventually much more effective approaches that need to be explored. In particular, [OncoSENS] is in my view still the only game in town for a real solution to cancer. Is it really possible we can keep pace with cancer, which changes and evolves so much?

de Grey: Exactly. The whole concept of WILT was the last part of SENS that came into place. I was actually considerably more cautious initially about what SENS could achieve, until I felt I really cracked cancer. Then I started feeling like I could go out with all guns blazing.

The thing about WILT is that it should be so powerful that even the engineers of evolution can’t overcome it. The limitation on evolution is that a given tumor has only got a trillion cells and 10 years. And if we’re talking about a situation that would be achieved by WILT, then we’re talking maybe no more than a billion cells before they just finally run out of telomere and explode or keel over or wither away. In fact, the tumor wilts.

This has not really been challenged. Most people who think WILT is not going to work feel that’s because it’s just going to be too hard to implement the stem cell replenishment parts. I think that’s shortsighted. Rejuvenation therapies won’t just rejuvenate us on the inside, but the outside as well.

de Grey: Sure, the outside is the easy part. Flash forward to when they’re put in place. Do you foresee a time when they’re overused, much in the same way personal cosmetics or cosmetic surgery can be abused?

de Grey: You’re not going to need botox if your skin is still elastic naturally. So really, it obviates the need for the somewhat problematic side-effect-ridden cosmetic surgery we have today. Of course the more thorough, the more natural, the more comprehensive a given approach is, the more attractive it’s going to be to people. People are not going to want to use botox if they don’t need to and if they get can get a better result from a proper rejuvenation therapy. So you’ll be bankrupting the cosmetics industry.

de Grey: Well, no. Perhaps plastic surgeons?

de Grey: I’m optimistic there. We’re already seeing the required shift in the industry. Certainly big pharma are beginning — kicking and screaming it may be said — to move toward regenerative medicine. Historically, they’ve obviously had one idea — the blockbuster drug business model. It’s falling apart. They know it and they’ve known it for a long time.

They’ve dragged their feet, but the amount of money that’s now going into regenerative medicine from the biggest pharma companies is very substantial. I don’t know as much about what’s going on within the cosmetics industry but I would confidently expect that it will go the same way. You’ve said that when these treatments become a reality, they should be free and available to all.

de Grey: It’s not a matter of should. I’m not making a political opinion here. I’m saying it’s inevitable they will be. Right. Governments would minimize the costs of taking care of the elderly by investing money up front.

de Grey: Right. The developing world is more fragile, but certainly within the industrialized world — and that of course will include China and India at that point — I think we can be absolutely certain the ability to pay will not be an issue. Do you think people who engage in risk-heavy behavior — say, smoking — should be given rejuvenation treatments regardless?

de Grey: Absolutely. But the reason I can say that so confidently is simply because risks like smoking or overeating will simply not be so risky anymore. It’s possible those therapies will need to be applied somewhat more frequently to such people than to other people. But still we’re talking there about something that’s happening to everybody. So it’s something that won’t be the subject of insurance, it will be something preventative that will be provided routinely. It’s difficult to imagine a time where people who have more money won’t have access first.

de Grey: Oh yeah. The question is what will the interval be. Remember, these are going to be experimental treatments. If I was Bill Gates I wouldn’t want to be first, right? There are going to be risks. Things are going to go wrong early on. And as far as I’m concerned, the more goes wrong the better, in the sense I sure as fuck don’t want all of these treatments to be made restricted to only people in clinical trials until Phase III is over. Do you want to go before or after Bill Gates?

de Grey: I’ll probably go around the same time as Bill Gates. Well, he’s older than me, so luckily. [laughs] You’ve had what you consider huge breakthroughs in hotels in California, a pub in Italy, a hotel in Dresden. How does being away from home and hanging out in pubs inform your thinking?

de Grey: It is important both in terms of how I think and also especially in terms of how I actually do my work; how I actually get the idea out and so on. I’ve given a talk on How To Be a Successful Heretic. It’s a 10-point plan. And one of them is “Be everywhere (a pint is worth 1,000 words).” You know, beer just works for me. I’m just lucky that way. What do you mean?

de Grey: It just helps me to think. I just communicate well in the context of alcohol, somehow as well as thinking. Also, it’s a bit of a role model thing. As I mentioned, the Methuselah Foundation had a bit of a problem with looking a bit too much like a fan club. But one could go too far the other way. I think having a bit of a personality cult around what I do works well. I have to obviously give a positive impression at many levels. I have to know my stuff, but you don’t do that in superficial interviews. You do that in the literature.

So I think it is important to show I enjoy my life. [Jason] Pontin in Technology Review tried to basically say I was this very circumscribed individual, and I looked as though I wasn’t enjoying my life, drinking too much beer. Outrageous. That pissed me off a lot. [laughs] That you drink too much beer?

de Grey: Yeah, I mean how would they know how much is too much? Yeah, especially since you’re basically a 30-year-old on the inside.

de Grey: Quite. It works. I drink exactly the right amount of beer evidently. [laughs] It’s ridiculous, really. Yet, I have to show I’m enjoying my life. It’s public knowledge I am polyamorous as well. That’s something that goes down not so well with some of my more politically sensitive friends and colleagues. But it goes quite well with some other people. [laughs] You claim three groups have been particularly supportive of your work: IT Professionals, libertarians and Canadians.

de Grey: It’s really a little bit broader than IT professionals. It includes mathematicians, for example. But if you think like a technologist, extrapolation comes naturally. Libertarians: Well, I guess they’re just good at being contrarian. It probably helps that most people think I’m crazy, right? I don’t think there’s much more to it than that. Canadians, however, I totally don’t get it. Are you Canadian by any chance? No, I’m not.

de Grey: I’m seriously considering, after my wife retires which won’t be all that long, maybe we’ll emigrate to Canada just because they like me so much. I totally don’t get it. Sometimes you have to accept you’re not going to understand something, but you like it anyway. So the big takeaways here are: Canadians love you, and you’re not an “immortality merchant.”

de Grey: When I’m feeling a little bit frivolous and I’ve got bored of saying, “Listen fuckwit, I don’t want to necessarily live forever, I just don’t want to get sick.” Sometimes I give a slightly more frivolous answer: “The current natural lifespan is only just about long enough for a man to figure out reasonably well what women like and dislike about men. So if we had a thousand years, then men might have a chance of figuring out what women like and dislike about each other.” Does your wife think a thousand years would do it?

de Grey: My wife has not responded on that one. You mentioned she taught you biology. Surely, she never imagined this is what it would lead to.

de Grey: You are so right about that. So, what does she think about your research and your work and your thinking?

de Grey: At the beginning, I was running everything by Adelaide. We were hand-in-glove all the time. I was really her first major protégé, even though it was informal. She understands entirely that I am her fault and she certainly feels very good that I’ve had success.

In terms of how she feels about the whole mission, she’s still pretty ambivalent. She doesn’t really 100 percent feel good about the idea that living healthily, indefinitely would entail living indefinitely. [laughs] She has the disadvantage that she’s 19 years older than me. On the one hand, there’s a personal emotional investment: She doesn’t think it’s going to [happen] in time for her. Secondly, she’s spent so much of her life not thinking this way, not really taking the idea of the defeat of aging seriously. How is your desire to help us not get sick informed by being in a long-term relationship with someone who is….

de Grey: With someone so much older. Yeah.

de Grey: A documentary in the U.K. actually ended with a completely random and arbitrary suggestion that maybe I was doing it for her. And?

de Grey: Which is complete bollocks…. We’ve got obviously a much greater incidence of serial careers and relationships, just because people are living longer and having more opportunity to do different things in their lives. That definitely seems to be something that’s going to naturally extend.

And in relationships, well, I just told you I’m pretty adventurous that way. That’s actually something I feel quite strongly about. The whole monogamy jealousy thing is a bit archaic, really. [laughs] It probably won’t last very long. As time keeps progressing, your wife will get further outside the realm where she’ll be able to benefit from these therapies. That doesn’t hit you personally?

de Grey: Not really. But the reason is a rather mathematical one. The way I think about this is, I don’t. Of course there’s no question I don’t want to get Alzheimer’s any more than anybody else does, right? I want to get these therapies. But I always look at the impact I am making. The best way to measure that is simply what is the difference I’m making to the date at which aging will be cured, if you like. Obviously I don’t know the answer, but I can certainly say with some confidence that it’s very unlikely indeed that I will make a difference of more than 10 years by my own efforts.

So let’s even take a 10-year difference. What do I actually achieve then in terms of my own probability of my making the cut? Have I increased it by 10 percent? Fifteen percent if I’m lucky, depending on where I am on the curve. I could be just young enough or I could be too old. So, it’s pretty hard to get worked up about 10 percent.

For me, therefore, the humanitarian aspect, the global aspect, irrespective of whether I know the people or not, is vastly more important. The fact I think about it that way is a good — you can call it a distraction even — a good way of focusing me away from getting any personal, emotional investment in it. Spoken like a scientist.

de Grey: Or at least a technologist. Split the difference.

de Grey: A humanitarian, that’s what I am. We should just call you a humanitarianist.

de Grey: I’ll take it.