SENS Survives the Challenge: Now Let's Get to Work

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  • REJUVENATION RESEARCHVolume 9, Number 4, 2006 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.


    SENS Survives the Challenge: Now Lets Get to Work


    The old road is rapidly aging.

    Bob Dylan

    MOST READERS WILL BY NOW have heard thatMIT Technology Reviews SENS Chal-lengean invitation to mainstream gerontol-ogists, with a $20,000 incentive, to compose adenunciation of SENS powerful enough to con-vince an independent expert panel that dis-cussing SENS in detail (let alone funding it) isunwarranted1has received three submissionsthat were all rejected by the panel.2 Given theeminence of the panel in both biology and tech-nology and of the submitters in biogerontol-ogy, a popular conclusion (with which I ofcourse concur) is that it was singularly unwiseof some of my colleagues in gerontology to bequite so outspoken in their opinions of SENS2,3given how poorly they had in fact studied it.(The orchestrator of the most strongly wordedsubmission reinforced this view by penning afurious protest4 at the non-expert status ofthe panel, thereby merely digging himself andhis colleagues into an even deeper hole thanthey already occupied.) Another conclusionhas been that, since the panel were certainly notconvinced that SENS would succeed, there wasmerit on both sides. This second conclusion, bycontrast, is one with which I sharply disagree.My view is the exact opposite: The detail ofSENS is what makes it feasible, and hence apanel who came in with essentially no knowl-edge of it and studied it only quite brieflywould be almost certain to doubt its feasibility,but the fact that they accept its admissibility asa credible topic of discussion despite this is aneven stronger refutation of my critics than ifthey had accepted it as workable and, thus, nec-essarily worthy of debate.

    However, it is not my purposehere or else-whereto be in any way triumphalist. Whatmatters is that there is work to do.57 An ob-server from outside mainstream biogerontologymight feel that a certain amount of time shouldnow be spent ensuring that my many publisheddetractors (totaling 37 undoubtedly credentialedgerontologists) appreciate the fact that they canevidently only convince each other, and not in-dependent experts, of their position, whichmeans that they should set about urgently con-sidering whether that position results from over-encumbrance by conventional wisdom. In fact,and as should be plain to anyone in the field,the depth of my colleagues derision at SENS isnot accurately reflected by the simple numberof its signatories. A concerted effort at attractingsuch signatures, when conducted by people wellknown to wield great influence in the decision-making process of mainstream research fund-ing, is hardly likely to be rebuffed by manywhose work entirely relies on such funding: In-deed, it is something of a testament to the legit-imacy of SENS that several such scientists didindeed refuse to sign the EMBO Reports paperand many others were conspicuously not askedto sign it. Other signatories of that article werelong-retired researchers who, I am sure, agreedheartily with the conclusion that SENS is fanci-ful but without knowing anything whateverabout SENS other than its claimed ability to leadto indefinite extension of lifespan. The size of thelist of authors is thus in danger of giving the po-tentially disastrous impression that mainstreambiogerontology is not nearly as open-minded asit is in fact.

    It is therefore a source of immense pleasureto me that a colleague who has hitherto beenprominent among my more intemperate de-tractors has, in this issue of RR, chosen to aban-

  • don such language in favor of a thoroughlymeasured account of his difficulties withSENS.8 Huber Warner has occupied a partic-ularly pivotal role in biogerontology for manyyears, heading the NIAs Biology of Agingprogram; consequently, his position as corre-sponding author on the EMBO Reports paperwas, on its face, a powerful statement thatSENS is not only fanciful, but also so danger-ous that the understated language typical ofscience must be abandoned in the quest tomarginalize it. Just 3 weeks after that articleappeared, however, Warner took part in a de-bate on SENS at the annual meeting of theGerontological Society of America, at the endof which he invited me and the other partici-pants to join him in summarizing our contri-butions in print. The original intention was topublish these pieces in the journal that Warneredits, Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences,but that did not work out, so the collection ap-pears in this issue. Warners taking of the ini-tiative in this matter unambiguously lays torest the idea that there was a consensus amongthe EMBO Reports articles authors with re-gard to its main message; namely, that SENSis as unworthy of real scientific debate as cre-ationism.

    Therefore, I feel that no time should be spentflagellating my colleagues with the SENS Chal-lenges demonstration that their judgment insigning up to a denunciation of SENS was un-duly hasty and short-sighted. Everyone makesmistakes; and the best course, here as always,is to learn from them but not dwell on them.To be sure, there are a rump of genuine SENSopponents (as opposed to skeptics) who havenailed their colors so firmly to that mast thatthey may feel they have no choice but to blus-ter on to oblivion; but the field in general is notso narrow minded as to ignore the views ofminds so eminent as the SENS Challenge panel.That is one reason why, in this issue of RR, you

    will find not only my write-up of my contri-bution to the GSA session9which necessarilyconsisted of a response to what had been writ-ten by others before that sessionbut also aseparate commentary10 in which I offer a con-sidered and constructive response to Warnerspoints. Onward!


    1. de Grey ADNJ. The SENS Challenge: $20,000 says theforeseeable defeat of aging is not laughable. Rejuve-nation Res 2005;8:207210.

    2. Pontin J. Is defeating aging a dream? MIT TechnolRev 2006;109:8084.

    3. Warner H, Anderson J, Austad S, Bergamini E, Bre-desen D, Butler R, Carnes BA, Clark BF, Cristofalo V,Faulkner J, Guarente L, Harrison DE, Kirkwood T,Lithgow G, Martin G, Masoro E, Melov S, Miller RA,Olshansky SJ, Partridge L, Pereira-Smith O, Perls T,Richardson A, Smith J, von Zglinicki T, Wang E, WeiJY, Williams TF. Science fact and the SENS agenda:what can we reasonably expect from ageing research?EMBO Rep 2005;6:10061008.

    4. Estep P, Kaeberlein M, Kapahi P, Kennedy BK, Lith-gow GJ, Martin GM, Melov S, Powers RW, Tis-senbaum HA. Preston Estep et al. dissent. MIT Tech-nology Review 2006. URL:

    5. de Grey ADNJ. Leon Kass: quite substantially right.Rejuvenation Res 2004;7:8991.

    6. de Grey ADNJ. Three self-evident life-extensiontruths. Rejuvenation Res 2004;7:165167.

    7. de Grey ADNJ. Aging, childlessness, or overpopula-tion: the futures right to choose. Rejuvenation Res2004;7:237238.

    8. Warner HR. Scientific and ethical concerns regardingengineering human longevity. Rejuvenation Res2006;9:440442.

    9. de Grey ADNJ. Is SENS a farrago? Rejuvenation Res2006;9:436439.

    10. de Grey ADNJ. SENS is hard, yes, but not too hardto try: a reply to Warner. Rejuvenation Res 2006;9:443445.

    Aubrey D.N.J. de Grey, Ph.D.Editor-in-Chief