The Methuselah Foundation is presently launching the New Organ 100, one part of a long term initiative to accelerate development of tissue engineered complex organs. An interview with CEO David Gobel was recently published at Motley Fool.
Borders: What is "life extension" -- and what does the Methuselah Foundation have to do with it?
Gobel: There are two kinds of life extension, one based on statistics and one based on one's own particular, non-statistical life. In each case, Life Extension means being healthier and living longer than: a) humans maximally have lived historically as a species (i.e. 120 years); and b) living a longer and healthier life than one individually would otherwise be likely to achieve without thoughtful intervention and new life extending technologies. For example, my mom lived to be 81, and had cancer surgery, knee replacements, insulin and a bunch of other interventions that didn't exist when when she was younger. My estimate is that medical advances added 19 happy years to her life...a huge personal dividend. We want to significantly extend the quality and quantity of that dividend so that 90 becomes the new 40.
By promoting extension of the statistical healthy lifespan, Methuselah has been a major influence on the public and scientific community's perception of the acceptability and value of increasing the maximum human lifespan and health-span. Starting in 2003 via the Methuselah Mouse Prize (four winners to date) and the tireless work of Methuselah volunteers - notably, Dr. Aubrey de Grey - the concept of engineering the delay of the human "expiration date" went from a ridiculous sci-fi fantasy to a non-controversial goal that serious scientists can now pursue without destroying their careers. The only controversy today is not if it will happen, but how soon it will happen.
On the second point of personal longevity, Methuselah has initiated a New Organ Prize that will incent the creation of something blindingly obviously needed. New parts for people. If a car can run perfectly well as if it had just come off the assembly line 110 years after being built because of replacement parts, why should humans be second class citizens to cars? Why should the 30,000 people who need new hearts at any given time be stuck with death as the likely outcome when your old corvair can easily get a rebuilt fuel pump? It is completely ridiculous, and we intend to do all we can to end the horror of the "Dialysis Matrix," for those needing kidneys currently suffer year after year in silence. So, New Parts For People is our current focus, because no one dies statistically - we die one unique and irreplaceable person at a time. Often because we just need a new part.
Borders: What is the most promising research avenue for the near term?
Gobel: Several directions: First, there is the switch from trying to slow aging by trying out various drugs, which is the essence of the old approach to all human medicine, to the rational design of biotechnologies to precisely repair or work around each of the causes of aging. As outlined by Aubrey de Grey and others in the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senesence (SENS), we already know with a fair degree of surety exactly which of the many cataloged biochemical and cellular changes that accompany aging are in fact the root causes of degeneration, frailty, and death. We also know enough about how to revert these changes to be developing the necessary biotechnologies for the task. This is a straightforward research and development plan, or at least as straightforward as research can ever be; progress here at the present time is largely a matter of raising more funding and convincing more of the research community to give up the old drug development line, going nowhere fast, and join the better party.
Secondly, the field of stem cell medicine, encompassing tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, and so forth, offers the prospect of replacing worn body parts and cell populations, or even restoring them in situ without surgery. ... It is even a promising matter that cell therapies are hampered by the damaged environment of the old body: Because so much of regenerative medicine is most beneficial to the old, that large industry will be increasingly steered in the direction of understanding how to reverse that environmental damage - how to restore the broken signaling and damaged stem cell niches that lead to poor regenerative capacity in the elderly.