The Millard Foundation [UPDATE 03/08/2009: their public face on the web is now the LifeStar Institute] has been moving towards earnest funding of longevity science over the past few years: there have been initial donations, conference attendances, meetings with movers and shakers. All the normal activities and preparation by people who take investing very seriously. Much like the Glenn Foundation, which I would consider an analogous force in the philanthropic funding space, the Millard family have donated generously to the Methuselah Foundation. But where Paul Glenn opted to place his first major funding initiatives firmly in the present mainstream - calorie restriction research, understanding metabolism, and attempts to slow aging through metabolic and genetic manipulation - the Millard family is more inclined towards the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) viewpoint. This approach is to reverse aging without altering the workings of our metabolism by identifying and repairing damage: the engineering approach.
Long-time readers will know that I consider the debate over the methods used to engineer longevity in humans to be the most important scientific battle of this century. If it goes the right way - towards SENS, presently the minority viewpoint - then I believe significant results in applied longevity science will arrive decades sooner than they might, and will include therapies capable of rejuvenating the elderly. If development of metabolic manipulation therapies to slow aging continues to dominate, progress towards enhanced longevity will be much slower, and the resulting therapies will be of no use to those already aged.
From what I've seen, the Millards have money, influence, and the intelligence to use it well. That is good news for SENS-style research over the next few years. Going by the latest news from the Methuselah Foundation, things are moving forward more rapidly now:
Back in June at Aging '08 I met Barbara Logan of the Millard Foundation having previously met her father William Millard at SENS 2. ... Over the following months she became a resource for me and I introduced her to some efforts with the Alberta Government where I had proposed the development of regenerative medicine programs which are under consideration. It soon became clear that there were some strong synergies and I was invited to participate in the efforts of the Millard Foundation in developing a strategy to serve the mission. Unsurprisingly, Aubrey [de Grey] is a consultant on the project and will play an increasingly important role as we move forward - the ideas of SENS are part of the project's DNA. More than that I'm afraid I can't speak to at this time, but suffice to say, it is one of the most exciting efforts (other than the Methuselah Foundation) that I have been involved with.
Diversification in the growth of the money-bearing and money-raising side of the healthy life extension community, and the wider adoption of the ideas of SENS in that group, is a very encouraging sign. Of all the things I'd want to see in a movement primed for growth in the years ahead, diversity amongst the movers and shakers tops the list. Diversity implies competition, and competition is the way to success.