Dmitry Kaminskiy of Deep Knowledge Ventures is one of a small group of technology entrepreneurs turned venture investors with a strong interest in bringing aging under medical control. I think the size of this group will grow in the future: many of the wealthy individuals you see in the press today talking about longevity science, such as Kaminskiy, Peter Thiel, Paul Glenn, and those steering Google Venture's Calico initiative, have been involved less vocally for years behind the scenes. Thiel has funded SENS rejuvenation research for the past decade, while Kaminskiy has been a trustee of the Biogerontology Research Foundation for some years, for example. Glenn was far ahead of both of them, but has never seemed particularly interested in making a big splash of the work of his foundation outside the scientific community: he continues to establish and reinforce funding for aging research labs year after year.
One of the big shifts in longevity science and its perception over the past couple of years has been the move from quiet support to vocal support, with a corresponding rise in accompanying press attention and public statements of intent from influential individuals. This is all to the good. It grants greater legitimacy to the field in the eyes of those who care more about opinion than fact, which sadly includes the controllers of most sources of large-scale funding. Other quiet supporters are more likely to speak out themselves. This all makes it easier for researchers in the field to raise funding. It also makes it easier for grassroots efforts to gather more supporters and raise more money for the cause. This change in the environment is a necessary step towards taking the defeat of aging, and the prospect for real, working rejuvenation treatments, from something that the average fellow in the street laughs at to something that is as widely supported as cancer research is today.
This leads me to note Kaminskiy's latest advocacy and awareness initiative, a $1 million prize to be awarded to the first individual verified to reach 123 years of age, beating the record set by Jeanne Calment almost twenty years ago now:
Dmitry Kaminskiy will present a $1 million prize to the first man or woman to reach the age of 123. The current longevity record is held by Jeanne Calment, who lived for 122 years and 164 days. Those with the highest odds of besting Calmant's record can be found among today's elderly population with proof of age recorded by either the Gerontology Research Group, Max Plank Institute for Demographic Research, or Guinness World Records.
The goals of this prize are to raise awareness of issues related to longevity and encourage people to take measures to extend their own lives and youth, encourage progress by drawing the attention of the scientific community to longevity issues, and stimulate business activity and institutions in the fields of health and gerontology.
As advocacy goes, this seems a fairly shrewd approach if kept fresh and well publicized. Nothing of this ilk has been tried before in the longevity science community for all the obvious reasons: people who might reach a new record longevity in the next decade will likely do so in isolation of any relevant modern efforts in the scientific and medical community. Rewarding long-lived individuals is very distant from any focus on research and medical development relevant to rejuvenation, especially if talking about how long someone presently older than 110 might live. Nonetheless, I think you'll agree that this could be a great source of recurring press and public attention if well managed.
Further, the initiative seems unlikely to cost Kaminskiy the $1 million prize at any point in the near future, which is always an important consideration when thinking about whether or not such an education and awareness effort is worthwhile. By a peculiarity of fate, Jeanne Calment's lifespan was a good three years longer than that of Sarah Knauss, the second longest lived individual with verified records to prove it. In turn, Knauss herself lived for a year and a half out beyond the life spans of the next few record individuals. Anywhere past 110 years of age the mortality rate month by month is enormous, never mind year by year. For people this frail and damaged by age, balanced on a knife-edge of chance and fragility, it seems unlikely that any of the initial implementations of prospective treatments for aging, those currently under development or in the laboratory, could be safely applied any time soon. There is a world of difference between trying to apply stem cell treatments or infusions or medical nanotechnology in a 70-year-old versus a 110-year-old: the latter will be much, much harder.
So, all things considered, I'll watch this prize effort with interest. It is one of many signs of the times, that the early days of the change years are upon us, in which treating aging so as to prevent degeneration and greatly extend healthy life span will move from fringe concern in the scientific community to mainstream research goal, widely supported and appreciated, and massively funded. There is a way to go yet, but this is the time for it. The first seeds are growing.