Philanthropy has an important role in funding medical research, and thus crowdfunding will have an equally important role in the years ahead: it is collaborative philanthropy, the diverse will of the public, organized and made real. The falling cost of early stage biotechnology research means that the suite of prototype technologies needed to arrest degenerative aging in mammals, preventing all age-related disease through periodic repair of the cell and tissue damage that causes aging, might be as little as a billion dollars and ten years of work away from where we stand today. If we all get our act together.
Many hands make light work, and getting our act together is the point of Lifespan.io. This new non-profit crowdfunding initiative officially launched last week, showcasing a SENS mitochondrial research project that is a third of the way towards being funded as of today. Lifespan.io is an outgrowth of the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF), and the staff and volunteers seek to attract funding for the most important of early staging longevity research, speeding the advent of prototype rejuvenation therapies. This is certainly the time for it: today is still early in a great transformation in aging research, leaving behind the look but don't touch approaches and the palliative treatment of late stage symptoms without any hope of lasting cures. The near future is brightened by the promise of direct intervention in the underlying causes of aging and age-related disease, and thus the prospect of being able to cure not just age-related disease but the very process of aging itself.
The LEAF and Lifespan.io president, Keith Comito, was kind enough to send me his thoughts on where this initiative comes from and where it is going. We're all of us on our own journeys through this space of development and potential in medicine; more traveling companions are always welcome:
My team and I created Lifespan.io because we strongly believe that centralizing crowdfunding efforts in this field will help to create a powerful grassroots movement for the extension of healthy human lifespan. It can do this by not only building a focused community of passionate serial donors who can fund research directly, but also by providing an accessible gateway for the public at large to be introduced to the idea of life extension.
Lifespan.io can also be a powerful tool in positively shaping the dialogue surrounding life extending technologies going forward. The argument against life extension used to be that it was impossible and a waste of time, but now the critique is changing to one that takes on shades of income inequality: this technology might be possible, but it will be available only for the rich. Lifespan.io can serve as a counter-force to this; giving the everyday person agency in the progression of this technology - democratizing relevant research and making the results open to the public.
In the near future we also plan to support Lifespan.io with various forms of content, such as thought-provoking videos focused on engaging the broader public. Through this we can help reframe certain aspects of the ongoing conversation about transhumanist ideals such as life extension, which at times can be divisive, to a more positive one by genuinely inviting dialogue on the science and the societal issues relating to life extension, as well as providing a path for those who wish to become informed and involved. Personally I believe that many people can be reached on the issue if we speak with compassion and intelligence. Extending healthy life is not just for scientists or transhumanists - it is human; it is what we have always done since the very first poultices and medicines.
Realizing our work sits within a continuum of human development and thought both connects us to the past and empowers the drive to keep reaching for an even greater future. Ever since The Epic of Gilgamesh humanity has dreamed of this goal - it is exciting that right now we are in this unique moment of history where literally anyone can carry the torch forward, and help find the flower of rejuvenation Gilgamesh sought. You get the chance to be part of the first Hero's Journey, and that's pretty awesome. Call me optimistic, but I think we can inspire others to feel that excitement too.
Personally, I've always been interested in self-enhancement, and slowly that led me to seek out information on the concept of life extension. This eventually led me to Aubrey de Grey's book Ending Aging which made me aware that meaningful progress in this area was feasible in our lifetime. I reached out to him and we bounced some emails back and forth about creating a New York based organization to further this research. This started out as a discussion group that met once a month for about a year, the remnants of which coalesced into LEAF.
I believe a little reframing could go a long way towards reaching the everyman, instead of alienating him. As one example, I think "Do you want to live forever?" is the wrong question to ask, because of how cognitive biases affect the way we think of aging. Better to ask "Do you want to be alive tomorrow? And, do you expect the answer to that question to change tomorrow?" It is in essence the same question, but phrased in a way that mitigates the inherent cognitive bias. I think that if we can illustrate how combating aging is really about affording greater choice to everyone, we can reach more people than we think. Even if an individual doesn't want to live longer or be free from terrible age-related diseases, the odds are that someone they know, someone they love, would like the freedom to have that choice - I believe most people could be convinced that giving their loved ones that choice is a good thing.