$100m — but for what?
Let’s assume someone would send you $100m tomorrow with just one instruction: “advance the Biostasis field as much as possible”. I think it’s not obvious what would be the most prudent use of the funds.
After someone brought the question up again recently, I reconsidered the decisions I make two and a half years ago; now with the experience gained over years.
Here’s a short rundown of options I’ve considered in the past:
- Fund research to improve the preservation quality significantly, but without the assumption/hope that it would be possible to show results that would broadly change the opinion of the general population. An example would be achieving almost perfect ultrastructure preservation followed by getting back some neural electrical activity (albeit unorganized) after long maintenance at cryogenic temperature (or another preservation method). Taking into account current funding amounts and results, $100m towards a singular goal of this magnitude likely provides a good probability of success.
This would be a significant advancement and would generate headlines for a while but would probably not be as clear nor easily understandable enough to change public opinion in a fundamental way - I.e. people would find it interesting but it would not relevantly change intent or action towards signing up. This is especially true as it would challenge a deeply held belief about the finality of death. You can see similar disagreement between scientific and public opinions in comparable areas of science (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5102371/), arguably providing a data point that scientific findings are indeed seemingly not enough to change public opinion.
Nevertheless, doing this kind of research would, if successful, move the field forward significantly and would be applauded and appreciated by everybody involved.
- Build a new research institute integrated into/with existing institutes and structures to channel additional funds towards the sector (NIH grants, co-funding from universities, etc), and also support a younger generation of researchers. While similar-ish to (1) this approach trades additional funds for less control in the direction of research and inefficiencies. Generally speaking, existing research structures are less interested in research targeted at the preservation of neural tissue as there are fewer near-term tangible applications. Inefficiencies would -for example- come as a function of the funding multiplier from different institutes getting involved. This approach is being tried already, so repeating it might reduce the efficacy further.
- Go for a breakthrough, paradigm-shifting research finding that convinces the broader population of the feasibility of Biostasis, e.g. preserving rats/mice/other mammals and then bringing them back to life after maintaining them at cryogenic temperatures (or another preservation method) for a relevant amount of time. While a result of this magnitude would in fact have a significant and relevant effect, the probability of actually achieving something similar with $100m is much lower. While this amount of funding is more than was ever available to the field over a shorter time frame, it is not at all an uncommon amount for biomedical research — not by a longshot. In fact, it is probably on the lower end if the intended outcome is a similarily sized breakthrough. Several of the problems that need to be solved for revival after cryopreservation/preservation are still in the conceptual stage with limited ideas for implementation. And although the complexity goes up with the size of the preserved organism, the increase is not linear. At the size of a mammal, even considering the very smallest ones, the complexity is already many orders of magnitude above what is currently possible (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25867710/).
- Growing the member base of any (new or existing) organization by 2–3 orders of magnitude, which would mean somewhere between 150.000 and 1.500.000 people have signed up to be preserved at the end of their lives. Here the effect is long-term, having more people signed up is not necessarily a positive impact in itself but it provides the opportunities to fund research from cash flow over a very extended time frame. A typical person signing up is likely willing to pay ≈ $40–50/month as a membership fee (this is higher than some existing organizations but lower than others). With 150.000 members you would end up with $63m per year. Luckily, Biostasis has good economics of scale allowing significant parts free to fund research. At 1.5m members ($630m annual membership fees) hundreds of millions would be available to fund research each year. With a typical signup age between 20 and 40, these funding levels would be possible for decades. And of course one would continue to sign up new members as time goes by.
While this approach obviously shifts the problem to another non-trivial issue (gaining more signups), if archived, it makes, relevantly, more research funding accessible at sustained levels.
- Increasing public awareness, do market education, try to gain acceptance and interest in the general population. There’s evidently a big overlap between (5) and (4), with the awareness/education approach taking a more indirect path. Once awareness, interest, or intent has been generated it still would need to be captured to “convert” it into money for research funding. If there would already be multiple, well-established organizations offering preservation services an indirect approach benefiting all of them might be very helpful, but this is plainly not the case yet. Given that, in the end, I don’t think this approach is meaningfully different from (4) in the current market situation.
- Lobbying targeted at multipliers and funding entities (individuals, foundations, …). Just as (5) needs a bigger base of activity to build awareness, lobbying needs more established structures to lobby for. Existing providers and research organizations have just not yet reached the size and professionalism needed to allow for effective lobbying. So in the end you would need to first build one of those.
Apart from the above arguments, what to do, comes down to what you can actually raise $100m for.
All else equal, my priority list would be: 4 >> 1 > 2 > 3 > 5 > 6
Please note that my opinion is biased due to the fact that I am leading an organization that goes for approach (4). While we don’t (yet) have anywhere close to $100m at our disposal, I think I would still make the same decision. The less funding is available, the stronger my conviction for this path is.
In conclusion, all of the approaches would have an important effect on the field.
If anybody wants to get involved in the field, please reach out. I’m more than happy to support, help and discuss.