Disruption is a part of progress. All communities of research and development go through cycles in which (a) the established mainstream and its insiders become slow and ineffective, (b) outsiders become frustrated given the unrealized potential for faster progress and better outcomes, (c) some of these outsiders succeed in developing a vastly better path forward, despite being opposed at every turn by the mainstream, (d) the new path forward displaces the existing mainstream, and the outsiders become the new leaders and insiders, (e) with time, this new mainstream becomes slow and ineffective. So the cycle repeats.
In the matter of medicine, aging, and longevity, we are presently somewhere in the midst of step (c). The mainstream of ineffective, expensive approaches to the treatment of age-related conditions is ineffective and expensive because it fails to consider or address the root causes of aging. Try making any damaged machine work better and longer while not actually repairing the damage - it isn't easy. The typical approach to research is to start with the end stage disease state and work slowly and painfully backwards through a very complex dysfunctional metabolism. At the first proximate cause, stop and try to build a treatment that can manipulate the diseased metabolic state so as to make the proximate cause less onerous to the patient. Then return to tracing the disease backwards towards root causes. There are so many layers of proximate causes in most diseases that this type of approach can continue - and has continued - for decades without ever getting close to the cell and tissue damage that is the root cause of aging, and thus the root cause of all age-related disease.
This, however, is the mainstream, the default approach. It is an established culture, reinforced by regulation and tradition, and will change but little without disruption. The most important outsiders attempting to disrupt aging research in favor of effective progress towards treatment of aging are those of the small community that built and supported the Methuselah Foundation and SENS Research Foundation, pulling in philanthropic funding and gathering allies in support of a repair-based approach to the treatment of aging. The fundamental, root causes of aging are well cataloged, forms of cell and tissue damage caused by the normal operation of metabolism, so why wade through the mud of how exactly aging progresses in detail from these causes, and why start at the end and work backwards? Just fix the known causes using any of the envisaged and planned potential classes of repair therapy and see what happens. The potential for cures first, full understanding later: too many people are dying to indulge the mainstream's preferred approach.
We are far enough into this process of disruption that some outsiders have become scientists and some scientists have joined the insurrection. There are thousands of supporters of rejuvenation research, there is respectful and informed press attention, and tens of millions of dollars have been deployed to advancing this cause. The first rejuvenation therapies are under development in startup companies. We're almost at the stage where the people who at the beginning carried out the hard, thankless work of spreading new ideas, obtaining support, and kicking shins - telling the scientific community that they were going about everything the wrong way - start to be buried by the second wave. It is the fate of all pioneers to be forgotten and trodden upon by a collaboration between later newcomers, those with more resources to claim the mantle of leadership, and those of the former mainstream who decide to pretend that they agreed all along. Such is life. It is frustrating, but the important thing is not the credit, but that the job will be done, that repair-based therapies for aging will become the new mainstream on the basis of obtaining far better results than the present approaches to aging. Life and health before pride.
The article linked below struck me as exhibiting a nice mix of many of the agendas that come to the fore during the disruption of an industry, ranging from the several factions intent on burying the original disruptors to individuals with the mainstream attempting to present a slight adjustment of their methods as an alternative to the still vastly better disruptive technology. I'm not sure I agree with all of the core thesis. Some of those presented as outsiders, such as Larry Ellison and Paul Glenn, were almost immediately co-opted by the mainstream of the time. There isn't enough of a distinction made between for-profit and philanthropic funding, as the latter has been vastly more influential and important over the years in which I've been observing progress in aging research. But see what you think.Despite the hyperbole, private funding is changing the science of aging for the better
I've been led here by Sonia Arrison, a Silicon Valley local and author of 100-Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything. Arrison has agreed to show me around her strange Californian world, populated with very wealthy, very smart dreamers, who share her certainty that a longevity revolution is on its way. We've arrived on Joon Yun's doorstep to learn how and why he, along with a small group of big power players, plan to "cure" aging and extend human health span - and possibly even human life - by decades, if not centuries. "I essentially made a wager to myself that aging is a code," Yun explains to me from across a shiny conference table. "If aging is a code, that code could be cracked and hacked. The current system in healthcare is a whack-a-mole of your symptoms until you die. It addresses the diseases of aging, but not curing the underlying process behind aging itself. The healthcare system is doing a good job of helping people live longer and stronger lives, but aging is still a terminal condition." In 2014, Yun created the Race Against Time Foundation and Palo Alto Prize, which will award $1 million to a team that can demonstrate the capacity to mitigate aging by, among other things, extending the life of a mammal by 50 percent.
Faith that science will conquer aging is common in Silicon Valley these days. The language Yun uses to explain his dream - especially the use of the word "cure" - makes traditional researchers in the field of aging cringe. But few are complaining about the interest of the big-spending Silicon Valley crowd. In recent years, public institutions like the National Institutes of Health have been slow to commit any more than a token of their overall budgets to aging research. It is the private funders with big dreams who are galvanizing the field. The Ellison Medical Foundation has spent nearly $400 million on longevity research. Oracle founder Ellison told his biographer, "Death makes me very angry." PayPal cofounder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel helped fund the SENS Research Foundation, a longevity organization co-led by British gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, who's argued we might someday halt aging and extend life indefinitely. (Arrison, Thiel's longtime friend, introduced the two).
In 2013, the founders of Google launched Calico, short for California Life Company, to research aging and associated diseases. A year later Calico teamed up with the biopharmaceutical company AbbVie, with which it plans to invest up to $1.5 billion to develop age-related therapies. "With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives," wrote Google cofounder Larry Page. The quest to extend longevity makes perfect sense in Silicon Valley, explains Lindy Fishburne, a longtime lieutenant of Thiel's, in her stately office in San Francisco's Presidio, a former military base that sits on a pictorial tip of the San Francisco Bay. "It's the engineering culture which says we'll build our way out of it, we'll code our way out of it, there has to be a solution. I also think it's coupled with a very unique optimism that is pervasive in Silicon Valley."
It is worth noting that all too few of the people and funding sources mentioned in the article are in fact backing the repair-based approaches to rejuvenation that are, to my eyes, the most likely to realize a future of greatly extended healthy lives, and to accomplish these gains soon enough to matter to you and I. Many of those involved are either already or on their way to being captured by the present ineffective mainstream, just like Ellison and Glenn. Nonetheless, disruption is underway, and threads of meaningful work will continue to grow. It is still early enough in this process that ordinary folk like you and I can make a mark: our philanthropy and support for the SENS Research Foundation and similar organizations in past years has produced meaningful change in the status quo, and that change is spreading.