Huber R. Warner is a biochemist by profession and he initiated and participated in the development of many research areas including: cellular senescence, oxidative stress, apoptosis, functional genomics, the intervention testing program, and premature aging models. He currently serves on the editorial board of Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, is the editor of the Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences, and is a fellow of the Gerontological Society of America. In latest Rejuvenation Research there is a valuable discussion between Warner and de Grey about the SENS project.
1. What is the story of your contra maximum life extension commitment?
I worked at the National Institutes of Health in the USA managing a grant program to fund research on the biology of aging for 21 years (1984-2005). As a member of the Federal government, I learned to be careful when speaking about science and health issues so as not to mislead the public about what had been experimentally proven vs. what was merely promising, hypothetical, or in progress.
2. Do you support moderate life extension? If not, what are your arguments against it?
I’m not against life extension, as numerous experiments with animal models have shown that increased longevity is routinely accompanied by increased health span, something that probably no one is against. However, we felt we had to be careful how we framed our goals, especially when speaking to legislators, as life span extension can conjure up the image of an exploding number of older frail people hanging around draining the resources of the government.
3. What is your (strongest) argument against maximum life extension? What are the problems with the present technological drafts of maximum life extension?
I believe that arguments for maximum (I’m not sure what you mean by this word) extension are irresponsible, and provide false hope to those who want to live for hundreds of years, a goal I see as not remotely possible. My argument is mostly a belief that biology is too messy and stochastic for us to be able to fix all the things that go wrong continuously in living systems. The argument made by Aubrey de Grey that we now know all the damage that needs to be dealt with to slow, stop or even reverse ageing seems overly optimistic to me. His intention to prevent cancer by inhibiting telomerase activity in all cells is sure to have critical unintended consequences for stem cells and our ability to mount an adequate immune response, in my opinion. Stem cells are what allow us to live as long as we do without developing major pathology, and our immune system allows us to resist bacteria and viruses, that we are exposed to constantly (just think about what happens in AIDS!). To me, this is the most controversial plank in his SENS agenda.
Update: Although telomerase-deficient mice have reduced cancer incidence, some cancer still occurs in these mice. 11.29.
4. What can You do against the type of life extension you do not prefer?
Continue to support careful and hypothesis-driven science.