2006 has been a terrific year for the Methuselah Foundation, so we — Aubrey de Grey and Dave Gobel, the MF’s founders and respectively its chairman and CEO — decided to write an end-of-year message to all our many supporters, to let you know all the great things that have happened in 2006 and how bright things are looking for 2007.
The most significant development in the MF’s activities during 2006 is that we are now a fully-fledged grant-making body. Until a year ago, we were focused predominantly on just one of our two strategies for promoting life-extension research, namely the Mprize, which had grown by the end of 2005 to well over $1m in cash and about $2m in pledges. But this year we have begun to place equal emphasis on the other arm of our operations, the direct funding of specific research projects. This was initiated with the help of a handful of generous five-digit donations, and was cemented in September with Peter Thiel’s donation of $500,000 over the next three years. As Aubrey wrote recently, the Thiel donation comprises not only this unconditional money but also a challenge pledge of a further $3m over the coming three years, which we’ll receive in full if we can raise $6m for SENS research from other sources. Incidentally, in response to Aubrey’s letter we’ve received a splendid donation of $50,000 from the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research, which has been supporting aging research for over 40 years; we’ve also received many other smaller donations, including from the world-famous futurist Ray Kurzweil. If you’re thinking of donating, and the 50% “Thiel supplement” attracts you as it did these people, there are still a few days left to beat the 2006 tax deadline!
There have also been several important events this year that should be instrumental in making 2007 an even more successful year than 2006. 2006 began in style, with Aubrey appearing in an extremely positive portrayal of SENS on the prime-time current affairs show “60 Minutes”; together with numerous other media appearances across the globe, this was a major step in raising awareness that serious treatment of aging is being worked on by serious and credentialed scientists. Even the normally cautious magazine The Economist mentioned the MF in positive terms recently. Aubrey is likely to have several high-profile media appearances during 2007, for some of which filming took place during 2006.
The overall credibility of SENS is of course central to our effort to attract major funding into the MF to fund SENS research. We received a huge boost in this regard during the summer, when three attempts by biologists to argue that SENS is fantasy were unceremoniously thrown out by a panel of experts. This process, which was called “the SENS Challenge”, was organised by MIT Technology Review, the magazine that had been highly dismissive of SENS in early 2005. We are grateful to Jason Pontin, TR’s editor, for showing the journalistic integrity and tenacity required to overcome SENS’s mainstream critics’ attempts to suppress SENS by ridiculing it rather than critiquing it. Only time will tell whether SENS will indeed defeat aging; but the idea that it is too ambitious even to attempt has been incontrovertibly rejected. See the TR piece describing the result if you don’t know the full story.
A major effort of the MF during 2006 will become public only in the fall: a popular science book describing SENS in depth for a general audience. It will be published by St. Martin’s Press, a major New York publishing house. The text was written partly by Aubrey but mostly by his full-time research assistant, Michael Rae.
The book will be launched contemporaneously with the next Cambridge SENS conference, which will take place on September 6-10. We’ll be opening the conference website for registrations very soon: go to the conference home page for more information. At the previous conference there was a great clamour for more frequent SENS conferences, especially somewhere in North America, so we’re delighted that one of our long-standing and most active volunteers, Kevin Perrott, has managed to put together exactly that in Edmonton on March 30-31 and we encourage you to come along! See the web site of the conference for more details.
From this platform, we are confident that during 2007 the MF will come of age as SENS is increasingly accepted by the mainstream. We will continue to raise money for the Mprize, which recently passed the $4 million mark with mom-of-three Shannon Vyff’s entry into the “300 Club” of long-term committed donors. We’ll continue to expand our SENS research program, with more manpower at our main LysoSENS site (Arizona State University), additional LysoSENS work at Rice University, a probable doubling of effort on the MitoSENS project in Cambridge, and with several other projects lined up to begin as we obtain the needed funds. Our public outreach activities will be much enhanced in 2007, not least by a professional redesign of our websites (mprize.org, methuselahfoundation.org and sens.org). And we will be aiming to allocate substantial resources to building an organisation of the size needed to defeat aging, including hiring a professional fundraiser and making more frequent visits to meet key potential supporters.
Finally, we’d like to say a few words about the sterling achievements of the rest of the MF team this year. Our operation depends totally on the donation not only of funds but of time, and the core volunteers have surpassed themselves this year. Between the Edmonton conference, the LysoSENS and MitoSENS research, to the book, and all manner of other critical roles (many of which, such as the donation software, are successful by NOT being conspicuous), we’re privileged to have a fantastic team. We had our first ever face-to-face project meeting in Boston a couple of months ago and we plan to have such meetings twice yearly from now on, as befits a truly mature global organisation.
We wish you all the best for 2007. We know how much you expect of the MF; we don’t plan to let you down!
Aubrey and Dave