It Comes Time for the Next Wave of Advocacy and Initiatives in Longevity Science

Advocacy, philanthropy, and practical efforts aimed at breaking new ground in medical science tend to ebb and flow like the tide: initiatives come in waves, as it takes some time for communities to form, evolve, digest the results of the last wave, assess new knowledge, and for newly motivated leaders to realize their roles and step forward.

The current wave, of which the most visible organizations involved in advocacy are the Methuselah Foundation, SENS Research Foundation, and the Longevity Dividend (and its supporting organizations), started out in earnest a decade ago, give or take. Tens of millions of dollars have been raised and devoted to research aimed at human rejuvenation, and a billion dollars or more for unsuccessful attempts to develop and commercialize means to modestly slow aging. Concurrently, a great deal of networking behind the scenes has led to a research community that is much more receptive to the goal of enhancing human longevity.

The start of the present wave took place ten years after a much smaller set of initiatives were launched or set underway, came and went, such as the work of the late Robert Bradbury. The 1990s were a thin time to be interested in serious work on human longevity, and the broader research community was largely disinterested in showing any sort of public support for these ideas.

The tide is coming in these past few decades, however. The waves are growing greatly in size and strength from cycle to cycle: it doesn't happen anywhere near as rapidly as we would like, but it is happening. The wave of the 1990s raised and directed only a few million dollars in funding to forward-looking causes related to longevity science, and went largely unnoticed by the broader public - but the community of supporters and advocates was significantly larger by the end than at the beginning. Concurrently tens of millions went to research into the newly discovered plasticity of longevity and aging in laboratory species: genetic engineering to discover ways to extend life through metabolic manipulation. The wave of the past decade has raised at least ten times as much as these figures on either side of the divide (the radical goals of rejuvenation versus the mainstream focus on slowing aging), and made comparatively large inroads into public and scientific perception. The times are changing, and biotechnology is progressing rapidly. What looked like pipe dreams twenty years ago are practical postgraduate research projects today.

It is about time for the next wave to begin. One might even argue that the decision by Google's board to devote hundreds of millions of dollars to mainstream longevity research marks the opening of the next decade of advocacy and research aimed at extending the healthy human life span. Again, something that looks like a tenfold multiple of funding compared to the wave now ending might occur if Google follows through with the plan as sketched to date - though it isn't at all clear that Google's Calico initiative will do anything more than augment the National Institute on Aging (NIA), and to a first approximation the NIA isn't funding anything that will lead to radical life extension or human rejuvenation.

But a rising tide raises all boats: the more that targeted treatment of aging becomes a deliberately funded and discussed goal, the easier it becomes to raise funds for rejuvenation research along the lines of the SENS model of damage repair - work that can lead to radical life extension on a comparatively short timeframe, given sufficient resources and interest.

Beyond Google, we might expect to see all sorts of new initiatives launching in the next few years: people new to the community, emboldened by what they have seen in the research community and in the efforts of groups now a decade old. Welcome aboard to all of them, I say: the more the merrier. There is still a great deal to accomplish, and the more who help out the better our chances of attaining and benefiting from the goal of working rejuvenation treatments.

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