Today, I thought I'd direct your attention to a selection of comments and thoughts from around the web on Peter Thiel's $3.5 million vote of confidence for the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) and the Methuselah Foundation. Starting with the more mainstream side of the house:
If you're going to live forever, then you'll probably need to set aside a little something extra in that retirement account.
And if you're doing research into getting people to live forever--or at least well beyond their three score and ten--then you'll probably need some up-front cash. To that end, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has ponied up a $3.5 million gift for scientific research into aging and its ravages. But the scientist receiving the gift wants to do a little more then fight wrinkles--he's hoping to "cure" aging itself, letting humans live for a thousand years.
The Methuselah Foundation, a Springfield, Va, organization run by Aubrey de Grey, sounds like something out of a Robert Heinlein novel.
De Grey told The Chronicle in e-mails and phone conversations last week that he isn't disturbed by scientific critics. Some of them, he noted, argue that death is inevitable because the cells and genes of living organisms inevitably accumulate errors that eventually kill them. But, he pointed out, because of careful upkeep "we have vintage cars driving around that were designed to last 15 years -- and they're 100 years old."
So why should humans be any different?
De Grey, who received a doctorate in biology at Cambridge University in 2000 and worked in the university's genetics department from 1992 until a few months ago, characterized the $3.5 million grant as a "major breakthrough" in his effort to get research on indefinite extension of life span "really moving in the laboratory."
"It's "pump-priming," he said. "I need probably $1 billion over 10 years" to achieve that goal."
The promise of extra years of life is an attractive one.It would mean more time to spend with friends, to enjoy life and better get to know oneself. What do you think? How far can we extend our lifespans?
Not that the Australian commenters think much of the idea of healthy life extension in that last link above. Still, it will be increasingly hard to hold up skeptical ignorance as a shield in the years ahead. Once the science funding starts rolling - and real results appear and are confirmed - advocacy and education will really take off. Folk like me will be off in planned obsolescence as the real, practiced patient advocacy groups take over - and do a far better job of it too, no doubt.
Moving on now to the much more eclectic, interesting and generally opinionated blogosphere: you'll want to click through to this first post from Michael Anissimov for some photographs of the formal acceptance of the $3.5 million donation.
I was fortunate to meet with Aubrey when he was in San Francisco to formally accept Thiel's gift, talking with reporters and filming a promotional video. Aubrey attended a meeting of BA-Trans that I organized. Other attendees were Bruce Klein and Susan Fonseca-Klein, who were original founders of the Immortality Institute, and Adam Kamil, a frequent poster on ImmInst who flew in from LA to be at this event.
To my surprise, Aubrey was fond enough of my Slate piece on him last year that he invited me to the signing at Thiel's home a short hike from mine in San Francisco. Another attendee shot some video of the event that may be on YouTube soon. I asked Peter why he was funding this particular organization. To paraphrase, he feels the Methuselah Foundation is pushing an area of research that's been neglected as investors and scientists chase more lucrative short-term projects to cure aging's effects - Alzheimer's, cancer, heart disease, etc - rather than to find its root causes. His verbatim quote for a press release: "I'm backing Dr. de Grey, because I believe that his revolutionary approach to aging research will accelerate this process, allowing many people alive today to enjoy radically longer and healthier lives for themselves and their loved ones."
I expect Thiel's donations to be the first of many very large donations aimed at reversing the aging process. The large number of multi-millionaires are very sharp people who know they really can't take their money with them when they die. So why not use a piece of their wealth to take a stab at making their bodies young again?
The full reversal of the aging process is an achievable goal. We will develop the biotechnologies to grow replacement parts, to do gene therapy, to send in stem cells to do repairs, and to remove the junk that accumulates in cells and between cells as we age. Daily announcements from biological resesarch labs demonstrate progress toward many of the technologies needed to reverse the aging process. Some people who are alive today will live to see the conquest of aging and the end of death from old age.
Bring it on.
Three cheers for Aubrey!
Now, I'm not at all qualified to comment on the soundness of de Grey's theoretical work, but if private money is being put up to test it, then that's a great step forward from my particular viewpoint. I'd welcome some public money going into the enterprise as well, though for now there's an argument for prioritising it to more mainstream anti-ageing research, such as that of S. Jay Olshansky and his colleagues.
This money is especially important because it represents the *start* of building up our research infrastructure.
Very exciting to see more entrepreneurs getting behind life extension research. If Gates and Buffett threw some of their Gigantor cash at it, it could probably get knocked over in ten or twenty years.
the effort to accumulate and hoard these vast claims on the resources of our society seems pointless to me. Super-wealth won't do you any good in the long run if can't buy you more than the average life expectancy in developed countries. Considering that all the "supercentenarians" I've heard of never had that much in the way of money, and we can't yet buy ourselves their better genes, it looks like the super-wealthy don't have much to look forward to until they can pay someone like Aubrey de Grey to invent and engineer repairs to our aging-susceptible biochemistry.
I have to echo that last point. There is no point to wealth at any level if you cannot use it to buy the only currency that truly matters - more healthy life.