Defeating Specific Diseases of Aging Versus Defeating Aging

We're still talking about the SENS fundraising discussion from last Saturday over in this corner of the web. First Anne C.

At a meeting yesterday with a group of fellow longevity advocates, one issue that turned into a point of discussion was that of whether it is worth presenting longevity treatments as means to mitigate specific diseases, or whether doing so is simply a distraction from the fundamental issue of addressing aging itself (or whether it really matters).

Next Mike Linksvayer:

Don't dwell on the of your program (unless they're short term money makers). De Grey claimed that repairing each of the seven causes of aging (with the possible exception of mutant mitochondria) individually would cure a raft of diseases. If true, this should be more than adequate to fund fixes for each of the seven causes individually without ever mentioning any potential for life extension. De Grey claimed this is a hard argument to make, as curing individual diseases through other means will be less expensive than the relevant cause of aging fix. If true, de Grey is either extremely optimistic about conventional medical research or is lying about the level of funding needed for his program, considering the $US billions spent on individual disease research annually. I suspect de Grey is wrong on this point and hope other researchers and organizations take an engineering-fixes-for-causes approach via funding for individual disease research.

As I recall, de Grey said that patching up the pathology of one age-related disease well enough that the patient would die of something else (i.e. let's say push it off for a decade perhaps, or not even that) was cheaper than developing the new technology to repair the root molecular damage. That seems like a fair enough estimate to me, and unfortunately this patch-just-a-little strategy is very much the focus of the mainstream of modern day medical science.

The portion of the discussion touching on fundraising under the banner of defeating aging versus fundraising under the banner of defeating one or more specific age-related diseases (via SENS-like strategies of repairing specific molecular damage) was held a little at cross purposes, I think. Some folk were focused down on critiquing the presentation materials, others on the broader scope of fundraising and influencing the research community, and it wasn't always clear in the moment where comments applied.

In any case, I think I take the opposite side of the argument from Linksvayer above: in my opinion it matters greatly as to the banner you raise funding beneath. The problem we face today is not a lack of funding for medical research per se - rather, it is a culture disinterested in tackling aging head-on. It doesn't matter how much money is flowing into the study of aging or treating age-related disease if the defeat of aging is not a primary, agreed-upon, widely supported goal. There has never been any trouble in raising funding for new methods of tackling specific age-related disease, but look at the rate of progress today in extending healthy life span in the old; it's faster than zero, but if healthy life extension continues to be incidental and inefficient, we will all still age, suffer and die - and not significantly later than we would have done if medical science stood still. In this context here, I rate "not significantly" as a couple of decades - sounds good, but it is enormously worse than what is possible if we get our act together.

It doesn't have to be that way, however - we have a chance to change things quickly enough to matter. The change we need to enact is at the level of infrastructure, understanding and intent. When the expected cost of development and commercialization of new technology runs into the hundreds of billions, it doesn't happen by accident. At that scale, the only change and progress to come about is that enacted deliberately and with intent, in an atmosphere of sufficient support and understanding to make ongoing fundraising and collaboration possible.

In other words, if you're not working on A, don't expect to achieve A.

As I see it, real cultural influence on attitudes towards the defeat of aging can start with breakthroughs in the fundraising process. It starts with respected, successful, wealthy individuals - and later organizations - donating to a cause previously considered fringe. We're seeing the first steps in that process now in the efforts of the Methuselah Foundation: donations from individuals such as Peter Thiel and Paul Glenn send a message to the wider audience precisely because they are explicitly given to help the defeat of aging, as opposed to the defeat of heart disease, or cancer, or any one of the other unpleasant end states caused by aging.

If the people of the world felt the same way about defeating aging as they did about defeating agingcancer, none of us in the healthy life extension community would need to be engaged in this sort of activism and advocacy. There would already be a huge infrastructure dedicated to the problem, and we'd be out there fundraising just like the folk who run for cancer research. This is the context within which Methuselah Foundation fundraising takes place - this is the sea change we need to bring about, by a combination of judicious scientific advances, advocacy, and progress in the fundraising space.

Technorati tags: , , ,