The SENS Research Foundation (SRF) funds research programs aimed at the development of rejuvenation biotechnology - i.e. the basis for medical therapies that can reverse degenerative aging and thus extend healthy, vigorous human life spans. These programs are based on the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) first outlined by Aubrey de Grey some years ago. I'm very much in favor of this: the work has to be done, the sooner the better, and the SRF is one of the few places in the world where you can make a donation and know that it's going directly towards high-impact, relevant medical research into human rejuvenation.
I'm pleased to see this sort of thing taking place, for example: a company pledging a percentage of profits to the cause. There has been some discussion of pledging profits and stock in young companies in the past, and rejuvenation biotechnology is popular with the technology entrepreneur community.
Rescue Assist, Inc., a company developing a robotic product that readily maneuvers through debris and will help rescue workers find disaster survivors, has pledged 7% of its profits to SENS Research Foundation. Though the corporation was founded only a couple of years ago, it was profitable in 2012, and so has already begun to back SRF and its mission of transforming the way the world researches and treats the diseases of aging. "This is a great example of how entrepreneurs can support our work and our cause," said Dr. Aubrey de Grey, SRF's Chief Science Officer.
"Incorporating a pledge like this at the formation stage of a new company is one of the best ways to support a nonprofit," said Glynn Burke, founder of Rescue Assist. "If this concept can be expanded by others, that would be a fantastic outcome."
You can read the Foundation's annual reports yourself to see how the money is being spent, and how the research and outreach moves forward year by year.
Getting the job done doesn't mean doing it all yourself, however. Completing a demonstration of SENS in mice is sketched in at a decade and a billion dollars if fully funded, but that's the opening scene in a longer play devoted to translating animal studies into human clinical medicine. The point of the SENS Research Foundation is to "completely redefine the way the world researches and treats aging and age-related diseases." Some directly funded research is necessary to this goal, such as when fields are neglected and the research community needs a mix of a kick in the pants and an influx of philanthropic funding - as is the case for work on clearing out advanced glycation end-products from our tissues. But the larger aim is persuasion: persuade a large enough fraction of the research community to agree with with SENS vision of aging, and they will form their own labs and research initiatives to help.
In this sense, SENS is a peaceful revolution of the sort that roll through the world's research communities with some regularity. In a way, SENS has already won its place as the forthcoming dominant paradigm, despite its minority status and tiny budget, and the process of getting to that dominance is all just details. You can tell that this is the case by the way that leaders in the research community are willing to become scientific advisers or host collaborative SENS research programs in their laboratories. Note the signing statement on the SENS Research Foundation advisory board page - it is in essence a refutation of much of what has been dominant in aging research for the past twenty years or so, and important figures in the research community now stand by that view:
Unfortunately, the regenerative medicine approach to combating aging is not yet being adequately pursued by major funding bodies: only a small number of laboratories worldwide are funded (either publicly or privately) to develop therapies that could rejuvenate aged but otherwise undamaged tissues. SRF has risen to the challenge of filling this void in the biomedical research funding arena.
As and when it is developed, this panel of therapies may provide many years, even decades, of additional youthful life to countless millions of people. Those extra years will be free of all age-related diseases, as well as the frailty and susceptibility to infections and falls that the elderly also experience. The alleviation of suffering that will result, and the resulting economic benefits of maintained productivity of the population, are almost incalculable. In our capacity as the overseers of SRF's research strategy, we urge you to do all you can to help SENS Research Foundation carry out this mission with maximum speed.
Once a critical mass of the movers and shakers in a field agree with you, then the rest is history. It might be a lot of work, but it will happen. The latest figure to join the SRF scientific board is a very well known name in the life science community:
We are honored to welcome Dr. George Church as the newest member of SENS Research Foundation's Research Advisory Board. Our RAB plays a key role in our mission to change the way the world researches and treats age-related disease. By applying expertise from multiple relevant areas, the Board assures that efforts and resources are directed along the most promising avenues.
Dr. Church brings relevant expertise in a number of fields, genetics in particular. He is Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Director of PersonalGenomes.org, in addition to being the author of the book, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves. His 1984 Harvard PhD included the first methods for direct genome sequencing, molecular multiplexing & barcoding, which led to the first commercial genome sequence in 1994.
His innovations in "next generation" genome sequencing and synthesis & cell/tissue engineering resulted in 12 companies spanning fields including medical genomics and synthetic biology as well as new privacy, biosafety & biosecurity policies. He is director of the NIH Center for Excellence in Genomic Science, and his honors include election to NAS & NAE and Franklin Bower Laureate for Achievement in Science.
So on the whole, things are going well, conforming to a progression that will lead to the SENS approach to aging - i.e. build the means of rejuvenation, and do it soon - becoming a large and important force in the medical research community of tomorrow. That is something of a necessary platform to build up the odds of receiving large-scale funding through the usual channels, rather than requiring visionary philanthropists and the crowdfunding efforts of interested communities to open the way.
It is still the case that one small, wealthy group could accelerate that progression by twenty years at this point by funding SENS to the tune of a few hundred million dollars. The odds of the necessary networking happening to create that event will continue to rise with progress in persuading the research community and existing constellation of funding institutions. Life is worth more than money, so the motivation to back rejuvenation research is strong, but people with access to large amounts of money tend to be very conservative in how they deploy it; only the most mainstream of initiatives can hope to be on the inside track for philanthropy. People like Peter Thiel or Dmitry Itskov are not commonplace, sadly.