An interesting next step from Google Life Sciences: they are putting forward $50 million in search of a laboratory to propose a program that pushes forward the state of the art in research and treatment of heart disease. Spent over ten years, that would produce an organization about the present size of the SENS Research Foundation, or a tenth of the Buck Institute, for purposes of comparison – and smaller than many of the research groups presently dedicated to the study of heart disease. So this is a sizable and welcome investment in medical research, but the significance is overhyped by the reporting organization here; no-one is going to cure heart disease with a $50 million project, since heart disease is caused by aging, and in the most general sense. This is an effort to change the funding landscape, stir things up, and make some progress.
If you walk through the list of forms of cell and tissue damage that causes degenerative aging, near every one of them contributes to structural failure of the cardiovascular system. The loss of stem cell activity and consequent decline in repair of tissues is only one of these: oxidized lipids that contribute to atherosclerosis in blood vessel walls; extracellular cross-links stiffen blood vessel walls and cause hypertension and consequent structural weakening in the heart; senescent cells wreck havoc on all the tissues they accumulate in; transthyretin amyloids that accumulate with age are implicated in heart disease via their ability to clog the cardiovascular system; and the loss of lysosomal function in long-lived cells, including those of the heart, progressively damages their function. Curing heart disease, removing it from the picture, requires treatments that effectively address near all of the causes of aging.
Quote from “Google Aims a $50 Million Moonshot at Curing Heart Disease” by Davey Alba, WIRED, November 16, 2015:
Cardiovascular disease people on Earth than anything else – over 17 million a year, and the number keeps going up. Of those deaths, more than 40 percent is due to coronary heart disease. Medicine has drugs that can treat it and practices that can help prevent it, but nobody really knows what causes it or how to cure it. Now, Google and the American Heart Association aim to change that by dropping a $50 million funding bomb on the problem. And as you might expect from a Silicon Valley giant that believes in moving fast and breaking things – an approach that hasn’t always transferred well to basic scientific research – the company isn’t spreading the money around. Google Life Sciences and the AHA said the money would go to one team over five years. “Traditional research funding models are often incremental and piecemeal, making it difficult to study a long-term, multifaceted subject. AHA and Google Life Sciences have committed to a bold new approach.”
The AHA, already the largest funder of cardiovascular research in the US outside of the federal government, says the program will be its most heavily funded initiative in nearly a century. Applications begin in January and if all goes according to plan, they’ll be due by February 14th. (Valentine’s Day. Get it?) If you want the $50 million, your idea has to fit on a single page. And Google won’t take a financial or intellectual property stake in the results. The organizations hope that the program will accelerate the field of heart research much like Google’s self-driving car eventually compelled the entire automobile industry to follow its lead.
This work is reproduced here in accord with a Creative Commons Attribution license. It was originally published on FightAging.org.