On The Launch of the SENS Foundation

As I'm sure you're aware, the Methuselah Foundation recently split in two, continuing separately as the Methuselah Foundation and SENS Foundation. The new Methuselah Foundation is focused on the Mprize for longevity science, while the SENS Foundation focuses on funding research and growth in the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, a research program aimed at greatly extending healthy human life. Both sides of the house continue to support one another's goals, and there's an overlap in volunteers, as you might expect.

As the Foundations take pains to point out, if you were donating to the Methuselah Foundation to fund SENS Research, your money will pass through to the SENS Foundation and continue to support that goal.

So, what are the roots of this change? I can't speak to the mindset of the co-founders of the original Methuselah Foundation, Dave Gobel and Aubrey de Grey, despite the volunteer work I perform here and there for the Methuselah Foundation, but I can offer my semi-outsider's opinion based on a few days of thinking about it. It runs something like this:

  • Back a few years, it seemed self-evident that the Mprize and SENS Research were synergistic programs for a single organization to operate, the growth of each boosting the other. Advocacy and encouragement for scientific research into extending healthy life on the one hand, and a specific research program aimed at doing just that on the other hand. That sounded sensible. It still sounds sensible.

  • As it turned out, it didn't work that way in practice, however. The people and strategies best employed on the two sides of the house were different and really didn't operate in synergy. Instead of an engine, you have something more like a gentle tug of war on resources and goals.

  • This is probably best illustrated at the present time by looking at the founders and board of the SENS Foundation versus who's who and the Mprize advisory board at the Methuselah Foundation. You'll see different circles of people with different backgrounds, career paths, and talents. Quite dissimilar.

So now we'll see two organizations heading in the directions they feel most comfortable taking for success. There are signs that the Methuselah Foundation is looking to tap new communities for its pro-longevity advocacy, for example, aiming to grow the healthy life extension community via a more populist approach than was employed in the past. I'm not sure how I feel about the first initiative, the My Bridge 4 Life program - it's too far from my target demographic in a number of ways for me to get a grasp on it - but the high level strategy seems worth trying.

The trick with the populist and indirect strategies, of course, is to avoid falling into the same sort of pit as ensnared American Academy for Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) or the Life Extension Foundation. I can vouch for the fact that the principles of those organizations are greatly interested in seeing a world of working rejuvenation medicine come to pass - but they now spend most of their time in the operation of organizations that contribute little to that goal. You get things done by getting things done. If you're not working on A, you're not working on A, even if you're working on B that is related to A.

The future of the SENS Foundation looks much like the recent past of the pre-split Methuselah Foundation: conferences (such as the forthcoming SENS4), longevity research, fundraising, and as much advocacy within the scientific community as outside it.

So on the whole, I am optimistic. People unleashed to do as they want to do tend to get more done, and the split looks like a sensible choice. I look forward to seeing what the two Foundations come up with in the years ahead.

Comments

If this will make SENS research faster and more efficient, I'm all for it!

I've long had a preference for direct SENS research over the MPrize, though I wish them both success.

Posted by: Michael G.R. at April 10th, 2009 2:14 PM

Interesting perspective. Its good to see that somebody thought generally the same way about this as I did.

I hope that they dont fall prey to the work on B instead of A thing too. I think thats a great part of the reason for CAR.

It seems the Immortality Institute might be headed down that, 'do for B in hopes of A' thing more than MF. We have a great supplements outreach, but maybe we should have that go the way of CAR like MF has done.

Im not sure about the bridge4life thing either but I feel the same way. If they can make it work then great, and we all have great confidence in them.

Posted by: brokenportal at April 10th, 2009 6:08 PM

Your estimate as to the reasons for the change are quite correct. The needs of a research panel that has 7 different major strands that ultimately requires many years of 9 figure funding are quite distinct from a prize program that leverages funding at least 16:1. They are entirely different animals with differing needs and imperatives.

The Mprize grew from nothing to $1.5 million within just 2 years from 2003 to 2005. Since 2005, the prize corpus grew only by another 250k, while SENS, starting in 2005 grew by several million. It thus became very clear during this time in the light of the dramitically slowed growth of Mprize that both projects need distinct and dedicated fundraising efforts, and it was for this reason that the change was made.

As to deviation/diversion of purpose, events that transpire will make it clear that Mfoundation has zero intention of following the path of many organizations that deviate from effectiveness. Specifically, I and the other volunteers at both the Mfoundation and Sens.org have not spent the last 8 years of our lives of devoted effort and risking of our reputations just to squander those efforts into useless wheel spinning. Far from it. Methuselah Foundation will remain a "Type A" organization.

Posted by: David Gobel at April 11th, 2009 6:13 PM

I forgot to comment on the rationale for My Bridge 4 Life. While many have been working to educate the public on the merits of healthy life extention, the vast majority of the donating public are still committed to Foundations that say they are pursuing cures for point diseases such as Cancer, Alzheimers, Heart Disease et al. In order for the mission to succeed as early as possible, it absolutely must appeal to and reach these mainstream donors so that they either increase their donations and include us in the mix (which is unlikely in the current financal climate) or, we must help them in two ways - give them useful life saving/extending benefits now that are mission aligned, and then leverage their involvement and appreciation such that they redirect all or part of their donor capacity to our mission. As one sage long time life extensionist put it - "WE'VE GOT TO STOP TRADING COCONUTS ON OUR LITTLE ISLAND"

The simple fact is that most people start donating due to a close brush with or direct experience with one of the point diseases of aging - we cannot ignore this fact - we must address what is and channel this donor energy to more productive ends. The theory behind MB4L is that if we attract and materially help those who have severe life threatening needs (and their friends and family) today using web 2.0 approaches then they will be vastly more inclined to go the rest of the intellectual distance and support the mission.

The leap to go from donating to the American Cancer Society or March of Dimes to donating to our mission is as high as the Cliffs of Dover - we must lower the intellectual hurdle for them while keeping faith with the actual mission. It is our hope and expectation that MB4L will do just that.

Posted by: David Gobel at April 11th, 2009 6:46 PM

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