How to Help in the Fight Against Aging

Researcher João Pedro de Magalhães has a good page of suggestions on how to help efforts to produce treatments for - and ultimately defeat - degenerative aging. As of about a decade ago, the bottom line is largely a matter of funding provided to the right lines of research, those associated with SENS, the strategies for engineered negligible senescence. But there is always a need for the next generation of researchers, and those who can help raise funds and persuade new supporters to join the community:

Research on aging, like scientific and medical research in general, depends on having researchers with adequate funding to carry out innovative science. One obvious way to contribute to gerontology is to become a researcher or at least a professional in a research institution. Even if you do not wish to have a career in science or are at an early stage of your career but wish to contribute to research, most labs welcome volunteers and interns. No matter your level of experience and skills, there are always ways in which can help.

Not everyone is cut to do research, however. Many people interested in aging that contact me, in fact, already have careers in completely different areas. But even if you cannot become a researcher there are many other ways you can help. Provided you have the means, of course, another straightforward way to help is by funding research on aging via charitable donations or venture capital investments. A word on how scientific funding works may be in order...

While government funding exists to support scientific research, including research on aging, this is largely inadequate. The problem is not only that funding is not sufficient to allow progress at a sufficient pace, but government funding is often misdirected. (And I acknowledge this having received substantial government funding to support my lab, so this is not just a case of sour grapes.) The problem with government funding is that, because of the way funding is typically allocated via peer-review, it is a conservative process which rewards incremental advances but discourages out-of-the-box, innovative projects. Therefore, while projects that follow-up on established paradigms, such as caloric restriction, have a chance of being funded, radical projects like those inspired by SENS have no chance. (This is not to say we should cut funding from caloric restriction and provide funding for SENS, but merely illustrates the point that high-risk, high-reward projects have little or no chance of receiving government funding.)

Given the above problems with science funding, the current situation is one in which progress is being impeded by the lack of funding (and money is very tight at the moment) and the imperfect allocation of existing resources. So if you have the means to donate to the science of aging then this is extremely valuable to researchers. Of course few people have the wealth to create a foundation, but even small contributions to labs or initiatives related to aging research are valuable as they allow researchers to explore ideas that would not be supported by traditional funding sources.


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