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Is Funding the Only Roadblock Standing in the Way of Greatly Extending Healthy Human Life Spans?

I was asked this question a few weeks back: is money the only real obstacle standing between us and good odds of greatly extending the healthy human life span within the next 20-30 years? The answer I gave was this: yes, yes it is is. A hundred times yes - a shortage of money is the central and only limiting factor to progress in slowing and reversing aging.

The world as a whole does not suffer from a shortage of money, of course. (If anything, the situation quite the opposite, sadly). When I say that money is a challenge, I mean that at present only a tiny faction of the optimal - or even somewhat adequate - research funds flow into the best projects in aging and longevity science. The field of aging research is as a whole underfunded in comparison to its importance, and a great deal of that funding is consistently misallocated - at least when seen from the perspective of someone who wants to produce concrete results in terms of years gained and lives saved. Very little of it goes to longevity science.

Nonetheless, clear research plans exist to address aging, such as the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) that aims to reverse its causes. The way ahead is known in great detail, the root causes of aging at the cellular and molecular level are so well specified at this point that proof or disproof by example lies within a handful of years, were suitable research programs funded. By that I mean go ahead and reverse or repair a root cause of aging in mice, then see what happens. That, however, takes money. Perhaps a billion dollars of it and ten years if a crash program was put together.

There are of course any number of other challenges I could point to - goals and line items that lie between the present and a possible future in which we will all live far longer in good health. For example, take the need to grow a longevity research community to rival the cancer research institution in energy and fundraising prowess. Or the need for SENS and related work on rejuvenation to win dominance over slowing aging by metabolic manipulation as the approach most favored by biogerontologists. Or the need to attract high net worth philanthropic donors and conservative funding institutions to the field. Or the need to make the public more aware of what progress could be achieved, and more demanding of that progress. I could go on. Yet these all boil down to money: sufficient funding will solve all of these challenges, as they will be flattened beneath a weight of money.

Consider this: if a few hundred million dollars fell upon the SENS Foundation today, and was spent aggressively, in five years the Foundation could be the leading US center for aging research. (For comparison, note that the Buck Institute draws an annual budget of a little less than $40 million, and the NIH itself budgets around $2.5 billion dollars a year, mostly spent on matters that have little to no impact on extending human life). That much money attracts more funding, opens doors, draws researchers, provides a megaphone for public speaking, and shifts the balance of interest and strategy in the way research is conducted in the field.

The bottom line: a section of the research community knows how to go about creating a good shot at reversing aging within a few decades. Only a trickle of money is flowing in their direction, and it is that level of funding that limits their progress. So the bootstrapping approach continues: get a little money, do the work, show positive results, leverage those results to gain more interest and more funding, repeat. This is a slow business, however, and will remain so until greater funding and interest in longevity science is achieved.

So money matters, is the limiting factor to progress, and will continue to be so until it is not.

Since we're talking about money, I should note that the year is coming to a close. This is traditionally a time to make charitable donations. If you want to have an impact on the future, then consider donating to help fund the active development of rejuvenation biotechnology or advocacy for longevity science. See the Take Action! page here at Fight Aging! for suggested charitable causes, such as the SENS Foundation, Methuselah Foundation, or New Organ initiative.

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