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An Open Cures Update

So how are things coming along with the Open Cures project? (If this is new to you, please do follow that link to see what this is all about).

I should preface this post by noting that my work on any given project tends to take place in waves, and the past couple of months have been a trough of comparatively low activity for Open Cures. The earlier part of this year was a crest in which planning was accomplished, discussions held, an email group and web site site up, posts and articles written, and a few thousand dollars expended to test the waters for paid writing of protocol documents, largely through contractors with life science backgrounds met via the oDesk marketplace. A start, in other words, for something that I anticipate will run at a more modest rate for a number of years.

You never get as far as you'd like in any given period of time, of course, and the rest of the world rarely cooperates by conforming to initial expectations. Since the last update posted here, work on finding reliable authors and writing has proceeded at a slow but steady pace. I'm comfortable with my ability to source these folk now - there are a surprisingly large number of life science graduates and researchers offering their services on the global market for distance work. So the focus has been on establishing high quality baseline documents as examples, templates to help future writers toe the line, and similar issues. One of the slowdowns here has been a matter of dealing with the questions that bedevil the setup for any process: what exactly do we want the results to look like, what is the best way to obtain them, how does it all fall into place in detail.

From an operations perspective, I've shifted most of the ongoing publishing into the Open Cures Wiki: if I'd decided to do that at the outset it would have saved some time in setting up the website, but such is life. I'm presently within striking distance of finishing up the LysoSENS bacterial discovery protocol: a final and rewritten draft is in hand, just not yet posted, and the author will be fixing up the outline to conform with it. A protocol outline for the synthesis of SkQ1, the targeted mitochondrial antioxidant, was completed and posted last month and is awaiting expansion into a full document. There's a nice backlog of other items to be reworked into the final template, and a nice list of research results that I'd like to produce protocols to describe.

I had hoped that the LysoSENS bacterial discovery would prove to be a useful overture to the DIYbio community - it's an interesting project with bacteria and various chemical synthesis activities, well suited as a hobbyist project but one which can assist real, significant research. Watching and interacting with the DIYbio community has led me to think that I'm too early, however, and that they are not going to be particularly receptive any time soon for a range of reasons. Firstly, the movers and shakers are focused on growth and technology over specific projects; they are a small community still, and the most important things for them right now involve producing low-cost and open versions of common technologies (such as OpenPCR), and building shared laboratory spaces to help grow and solidify local groups (such as BioCurious).

Secondly, most of these folk are either disinterested or hostile towards engineered longevity and human rejuvenation as long-term goals. I would guess that this stems in part from the fact that this describes the population in general, and there's no particular reason that a selection of entrepreneurial life science folk should be any different, and in part from the plant biotech / third world farming assistance / environmentalist roots of a fair-sized fraction of the community. They have a tendency to look down on things that they can argue do not primarily help the poor and disadvantaged first; environmentalist hostility towards human longevity is well known and widespread.

Thirdly, the DIYbio community is somewhere between scared and terrified of the possibility of hostile government regulation arriving before they have a large enough community and mindshare to effectively resist it - so there is considerable self-censorship, caution, and opposition to any proposed work with animals, animal cells, or indeed anything that might touch on the heavy regulation that attends professional life science research on the medical side. Similarly, you won't win many friends by having the declared goal of working around the FDA as is the case for Open Cures - and for much the same reasons.

So, in short, I'm thinking that it's too early to expect useful allies there. That community needs to become larger, have listened to what the longevity advocacy community has to say for longer, and Open Cures needs more than just an idea and a website to demonstrate its solidity and useful nature. A nice library of protocols would be a good start, and that's underway at a modest, side-project sort of pace.

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