Crowdfunding will be an important component of future medical research: it is the logical evolution of the efforts of past decades in which philanthropic foundations raised awareness and funding to accelerate research into treatments for specific diseases. Philanthropy has long been necessary to enable the most important early stage, high-risk research to move forward. Large, established institutional funding sources have little appetite for risk and consequently do very little to move the needle on efforts to create the next generation of medical technology.
This is all very important for the future of serious rejuvenation research, such as SENS-style efforts to repair the cellular and molecular damage that causes aging. This is presently a minority component of the minority field of aging research, neither well supported nor well known. It is, however, the future of medical research if nurtured - a disruptive titan in its earliest stages of growth. For that growth to occur there must be financial support and a community of supporters willing to take on the risks of early stage research. We should keep an eye on trends that may help this to come about.
The falling cost of communication means that intermediaries such as traditionally structured per-disease research foundations are becoming less necessary. They still play an important role in digesting information from the field and educating supporters, but it is now cost-effective for scientists to reach out directly, and for supporters to educate themselves to the point of being able to pick and choose exactly which projects they wish to fund. A new infrastructure is arising to build marketplaces and tools for this process, and Microryza is one of the initiatives in this space:
Luan and Wu are both young scientists - they're in their 20s - but their thinking was based on the old entrepreneurial approach: to be successful, find a hole and fill it. The particular hole they were dealing with is that scientists are often forced to siphon off months of precious time and incalculable amounts of creative energy as they focus on writing grant proposals. Worse, for all that investment in time and energy, they may have no success to show for it.
Fully 80% of Federal grant applications are never funded, and in biomedicine, the average age of a first-time grant recipient is 42. Too many projects never get funded because they seem risky, the proposer is young, the amount is too small to be worth the paperwork, or it's simply an approach that's never been tried before. As Luan says, "It's increasingly difficult for new ideas to get off the ground, especially the innovative, high-risk ideas with the biggest impact."
The answer to small-scale innovative scientific research funding could be to leverage the worldwide power of the internet to create a microfinance funding source involving individual subscribers. According to Luan, there's a lot researchers need to learn about public outreach if they're to make their scientific crowd-funding a success. "People wanting to do crowd funding may not be using Twitter or Facebook, and they may not know where to go to reach out to the communities that are passionate about their issue."