Here is an example of grassroots advocacy for longevity science in Europe, where single-issue political parties are a viable approach to advancing a cause, unlike the case in the US. It is always heartening to see any one person step out of the crowd to make a stand and say that, yes, it is very important that research into treating aging as a medical condition is funded and supported. Success comes when enough people do this: any movement is just a matter of many individuals making this choice and giving time and money to building the future they want to see.
There are a number of small single-party efforts in various European countries, and many of them collaborate through the International Longevity Alliance, a network of activists looking to make a better future. As of yet this is still a small group, even taken together as a whole, but the fact that it exists at all is a sign that the tide is rising, with ever more people realizing that there are realistic prospects for the treatment of aging and elimination of age-related disease. The efforts of these activists are the seeds of much larger initiatives yet to come, and are to be commended:
In our new LIFEMAG community series, we interview activists throughout the world looking to take life extension ideas from the radical to the mainstream. In this first instalment, Valentina Lencautan speaks to Felix Werth, a biochemistry student at Potsdam University, who has founded Germany's first and only life extension focused political party - the Partei für Gesundheitsforschung (Party for Health Research). At the party's weekly meeting, Felix explains how the party was formed six months ago in the hope of attracting enough members to spread the word about life extension, and increase the German government's investment in aging research.
What made you get into life extension activism?
It was seeing the work of SENS and interviews with Aubrey de Grey among others. I was inspired so much that I decided to study to become a biochemist myself. I was thinking about what I could do for the cause of life extension, and thought starting a political party was a good way to raise awareness, and also encourage the German government to invest more in aging research. The current budget of the German government is over €300bn, so if just one per cent of that was invested in aging research, that would be €3bn.
Is there a big support base for life extension in Berlin?
I am afraid we are still a very small group, but I hope that will change. To be able to participate in the elections, the party needs about 400 members, and we're still some way off achieving that. I try to tell people that this matter concerns their lives, that it's not just about living a healthy lifestyle. Nowadays people are flooded with information about what they should eat and the exercise we should do. Many perceive us as yet another health advisor who is trying to tell them how they should live. Many find it difficult to understand what the SENS concept is, that it is about repairing the body and rejuvenation. Others just do not believe it is possible. It is a matter of convincing people that it can be a reality.
So you are campaigning not for just more funding, but also for the SENS method in research as well?
The SENS method is the best one there is at the moment, but I would leave this kind of decision to the scientists. The party's main purpose is to find the money to be invested into research. It is all about finding therapies for the diseases of old age. If we were to receive more funding, research would evolve so much faster. It is simple logic.