Saturday, July 25, 2009
I have previously blogged, extensively, about how X-Prizes for particular technological achievements, particularly those related to space, could promote progress.
Here is something similar in a field which, though I have blogged about it before, gets less coverage & is more important to most individual people than space - preventing aging.The Methuselah Mouse prize is a very good example of how to use such prices since actual profits to be made in extending the lives of mice are minimal but the possible crossover to humans when it has been achieved is unlimited. They also, having made awards, have a proven record of success.
The Mprize competition is an exciting and viable mid-term strategy to deliver on the Methuselah Foundation’s mission of extending healthy human life. It directly accelerates the development of revolutionary new life extension therapies by awarding two cash prizes: one to the research team that breaks the world record for the oldest-ever mouse; and one to the team that develops the most successful late-onset rejuvenation. Previous winners have already proven that healthy life can be extended; each new winner pushes the outer limits of healthy life back even further.
When asked how the Mprize will produce solutions to the diseases of aging, Methuselah Foundation CEO Dave Gobel says: "Human beings that work committedly to a common and beneficial goal are one of the most powerful forces in the known universe - I mean that. Given time, there is nothing that we can conceive of that we can't eventually achieve." This competitive research structure gathers together the widest array of resources and the broadest spectrum of biological techniques available, and the results provide ever more powerful evidence that we can greatly extend healthy lifespan.
The Mprize consists of two separate prize competitions:
The Longevity Prize, awarded to the research team that breaks the world record for the oldest-ever mouse (Mus musculus);
The Rejuvenation Prize, awarded for the best-ever late-onset intervention.
In the competition for the Longevity Prize, money is awarded to the producer of the world’s oldest-ever mouse. This is restricted to the species used in virtually all laboratory work, Mus musculus, but no other restrictions should be placed on the way in which the mouse's lifespan is extended, provided that the methods used maintain cognitive and physical wellbeing.
The Rejuvenation Prize rewards successful late-onset interventions performed on an aged mouse and has been instituted to satisfy two shortcomings of the Longevity Prize: first, it is of limited scientific value to focus on a single mouse (a statistical outlier); and second, it is very likely that interventions applied throughout life (as they are during Longevity Prize research) will always be ahead of those initiated late, and thus would have an ongoing advantage in a simple competition structure. Our most important end goal is not merely to extend life, but to promote the development of interventions that restore youthful physiology. By seeking interventions that are effective when initiated at a late age, this prize encourages scientific research that is most likely to benefit those reading these guidelines today.
A fund exists to provide the money for the Longevity and Rejuvenation prizes. This fund is open to contributions from anyone; donors can contribute to either or both prizes as they see fit. In addition, donors of amounts exceeding US$25,000 can choose to make their donation up front or as a pledge.
The Longevity Prize is won whenever the world record lifespan for a mouse of the species most commonly used in scientific work, Mus musculus, is exceeded.
The amount won by a winner of the Longevity Prize is in proportion to the size of the fund at that time, but also in proportion to the margin by which the previous record is broken. The precise formula is:
Previous record: X days
New record: X+Y days
Longevity Prize fund contains: $Z at noon GMT on day of death of record-breaker
Winner receives: $Z x (Y/(X+Y))
Thus, hypothetically, if the new record is twice the previous one, the winner receives half the fund. If the new record is 10% more than the old one, the winner receives 1/11 of the fund, and so on. The fund can thus never be exhausted, and the incentive to break the new record remains intact indefinitely. This is very different from a structure that specifies a particular mouse age at which the whole fund is awarded. We believe this to be a very important difference: public attention will be best engaged and maintained by a steady stream of record-breaking events that demonstrate how scientists are taking progressively better control of the aging process.
The developers of a record-breaking intervention will receive prize money every week from the point at which their oldest living mouse beat the previous record. The amount paid each week will be calculated as though their mouse had just died, and the total amount won so far by a living record-breaker will be prominently displayed on the Mprize web site.
The Rejuvenation Prize is not awarded for the life extension of an individual mouse but for a published, peer-reviewed study. The study must satisfy the following criteria:
The treated and control groups must have consisted of at least 20 mice each.
The intervention must have commenced at an age at least half of the eventual mean age at death of the longest-lived 10% of the control group.
The treated mice must have been assessed for at least five different markers that change significantly with age in the controls, and there must be a statistically significant reversal in the trajectory of those five markers in the treated mice at some time after treatment began versus some time before it began. The experimenters select the comparison times, both before and after. It is acceptable for other markers to fail to show this reversal.
The record that the next winner must beat is the mean age at death of the longest-lived 10% of the treated group.
It is also worth pointing out that, once again, all the money has been put up by rich individuals. Government routinely spends billions on research which is wasted yet will not put up even millions for this. There is no reasonable doubt that for a small fraction of what what government currently spends on science they could get almost everything they are allegedly researching for. Indeed there is no doubt whatsoever that they would either get it or it would cost nothing since that is the nature of prizes. It strongly supports Pournelle's law that "the purpose of government spending is to pay government workers & their friends" & that any secondary purpose (what the money is officially supposed to be for) is a very insignificant consideration indeed.
It strikes me that if, as suggested, low gravity reduces aging then a future M-Prize winner might be connected to a previous X-Prize winner - now that is how science works.