As a follow on to my remarks on the ambitious nature of Ray Kurzweil's timescales for longevity research, it would seem to be a useful exercise to ask just how long it takes to ramp up funding for specific medical research. How long after the first advocacy organizations get underway does it take to direct $500 million or $1 billion per year into a narrow field of medical research?
We can look at a number of historical initiatives over the past four decades in an attempt to find out; cancer, AIDS and Alzheimer's are the most obvious. While digging up private investment figures is a real undertaking, one can at least get an idea as to boundary points and timescales involved by looking at public funding. Based on a casual examination of the recent past, it would seem that a good ten to twenty years is required to generate large public research programs; private research is sometimes ahead, sometimes behind in its own funding while this is going on.
While it is gratifying to see the success of regenerative medicine as a viable field of research - especially given the understanding of cellular biochemistry and genetics that will be generated in the course of deploying stem cell therapies for age-related conditions - it is not going to do anywhere near as much for healthy longevity as a directed program of research into understanding and curing the aging process. The question would be whether we can muster a surge of advocacy for serious anti-aging research akin to that of AIDS groups, or whether we face the slower ramp up of cancer or Alzheimer's research - tens of millions of lives hang in the balance with each passing year. We cannot afford to waste time.