Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, commonly called SENS, is a recently devised engineering approach with the lofty goal of repairing the damage caused by aging; in effect curing the aging process. And while much controversy surrounds this idea, it is rapidly gaining support in many parts of the world. This shouldn’t be surprising however, considering the quest for immortality has existed since humanity first began to ponder the meaning of death.
So what exactly is SENS? It is the brainchild of a UK biomedical gerontologist, Aubrey de Grey, who is also chairman and chief science officer of the Methuselah Foundation and editor-in-chief of the academic journal Rejuvenation Research. He believes, as do many others, that all of the causes of aging have been discovered, and that we need just find ways to repair the damage to reverse this process. The categories of damage that he has compiled, as well as potential solutions, are:
1. Cell loss and/or atrophy. This could be repaired through stem cells, growth factors, or even exercise.
2. Mutation of nuclear DNA. Arguably, the main problem here is with cancer and a strategy called WILT (Whole-body interdiction of lengthening of telomeres) has been proposed. I’ll spare you the details, but you can read about it at sens.org.
3. Accumulation of mutant mitochondria. Allotopic expression of 13 mitochondrial genes in the nucleus would resolve this issue.
4. Death-resistant cells. Certain cells enter a state where they are not dividing anymore, but don’t die either. These cells can have negative side effects and change the microenvironment around them. This could be repaired through ablation of the affected cells or even by reprogramming them.
5. Extracellular crosslinks. Some of the worst of these are called AGEs (advanced glycation endproducts), but they can be destroyed using enzymes or certain compounds.
6. Extracellular junk. Enhance phagocytosis. Use beta-blockers.
7. Intracellular junk. This could be eliminated through treatment with microbial enzymes (enzyme replacement therapy or gene therapy).
Outside of the seven listed above, there are no other known types of damage associated with aging. And importantly no new ones have been discovered in over twenty years. Many gerontologists have found numerous reasons why this type of damage happens, but unfortunately they are unable to turn those findings into treatments due to the complex nature of our biochemistry. SENS circumvents this problem by not attempting the stop the underlying process, but by fixing the damage that occurs.
As it stands, support for SENS is rapidly growing, and could soon have global implications. Recently, Peter Thiel, cofounder and former CEO of PayPal, pledged $3.5 million dollars to the Methuselah Foundation, which supports SENS research. The foundation currently manages two funds, one for SENS and one for the MPrize which awards researchers who can surpass certain longevity or rejuvenation benchmarks in mice. Both funds now total over $4 million each and they are growing every day. If you would like to learn more about SENS or find out what you can do to help, go to sens.org, methuselahfoundation.org, or mprize.org.