Human Genetics

How and why do we age?
Answered by Aubrey de Grey
  • Aubrey de Grey

    Aubrey de Grey

  1. Aubrey de Grey Chief Science Officer, SENS Foundation


    Aging is actually a really simple thing to understand, because it's the same for the human body as it is for a simple man-made machine, like a car or an airplane or whatever. Ultimately, it's simply that any remotely complex machine, as a side effect -- as a normal, intrinsic, inevitable side effect of its normal operation -- is going to do damage to itself. That damage will initially be harmless to the functioning of the machine. In fact, the design of the machine is always made so that it can tolerate a certain amount of damage. But the reason why machines have warranty periods is because that damage progressively accumulates and there might be certain types of damage that are easy to repair periodically so that you can stave them off, but there will be other types of damage where the design of the machine doesn't allow particularly easy repair. So, that type of damage just continues to accumulate and eventually breaks the machine.

    Now, the human body is just a machine. We often don't think about it that way, because an awful lot, a large majority of the damage that our bodies create as a result of their normal operation, is automatically repaired by machinery that also exists in the human body. But the whole of medicine is about augmenting that. It's about trying to repair damage that the body does not automatically repair. And so, what we're all about is trying to augment the repair capacity to the human body so as to address the types of damage that accumulate really slowly throughout life and only affect actual function of your health, whether it be physical or mental, late in life. So, aging is simply the lifelong accumulation of molecular and cellular side effects of metabolism that eventually contribute to age-related ill health.

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