2010 November 29 Monday
Play Genetic Game For Scientific Research

Want to contribute to genetic research project? Scientists at McGill University in Canada have developed an online genetic game whose players will, by playing, contribute to genetic research. Here's your chance to do genetic research? Who's game?

Playing online can mean more than killing time, thanks to a new game developed by a team of bioinformaticians at McGill University. Now, players can contribute in a fun way to genetic research. "There are some calculations that the human brain does more efficiently than any computer can, such as recognizing a face," explained lead researcher Dr. Jérôme Waldispuhl of the School of Computer Science. "Recognizing and sorting the patterns in the human genetic code falls in that category. Our new online game enables players to have fun while contributing to genetic research – players can even choose which genetic disease they want to help decode." The game is called Phylo and can be played at http://phylo.cs.mcgill.ca.

The game has been tested within the scientific community to ensure its accuracy, but was officially launched today at 11 a.m. "We're hoping that people will enjoy playing the game and that many participants will sign up," Waldispühl said. "This is an opportunity for people to use their free time to contribute in an extremely important way to medical research." Many human diseases are caused by defects in the DNA code, and researchers are only just beginning to unravel this link.

What a great cause. You need Adobe Flash player installed to play.

By Randall Parker    2010 November 29 10:42 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2007 October 14 Sunday
Tyler Cowen Speaking at Google On Prizes And Charity

Speaking at Google Marginal Revolutionary Tyler Cowen gave a recent talk about the trade-offs between the use of prizes and grants. It is about 50 minutes long and worth a listen.

The occasion for Tyler to speak about Prizes was Google's announcement of a prize to send a robotic vehicle to the Moon to cruise around. My own negative reaction to that Google moon rover prize was strengthened by listening to Tyler's talk. First off, note Tyler's comments about how advancing science is probably the most productive way to use prizes (and I concur). Well, Google's moon rover prize will not advance science in areas which provide large benefits to the public by much if at all. The prize motivates engineering work which will mostly involve integration and use of existing technologies. The prize won't spur developments into cheaper and more reliable launch vehicles. The prize won't push nuclear propulsion forward for interplanetary travel. The prize won't improve Earth monitoring technologies. But it does help Google's popular image.

Tyler refers to people who argue that prizes should set goals achievable in 4 to 8 years. Well, I think that longer term goal prizes have benefits that are less immediately apparent. For example, an undergraduate or high school student could be persuaded to go into a field of science to achieve some goal in their 30s and 40s and beyond. Also, a prize could offer a series of cash pay-outs for successive goals in a general direction. For example, imagine a prize for photovoltaics where scientists get $1 million or $2 million per additional 1 percent increase in efficiency of light conversion into electricity. I'd really like to see such a prize.

Tyler also observes that if you give to a charity but only do so rarely you will cause them to put you on their mailing list and that could end up costing them more from the repeat mailings than the amount you initially gave. This is an argument for either anonymous giving or at least donation via a method that doesn't give them a mailing address. Also, if you want to save a charity money then contact them and ask them to take you off their mailing list.

Tyler argues that prizes are underfunded because donors don't get as much satisfaction out of sponsoring prizes as from donating grants. So if you want to donate then probably you should donate to a prize rather than to a foundation that gives out grants. If you do not want to grow old and die then donate to the Methuselah Mouse Prize. That prize will accelerate advances that will eventually convince the general public that the defeat of aging is an achievable scientific and biotechnological goal. Pursuit of rejuvenation therapies and the defeat of aging is an area where prizes can make a big difference. If you are interested in both promoting these advances and learning more about this goal then donate $100 to the Methuselah Foundation and get an autographed copy of Aubrey de Grey's book Ending Aging.

Tyler expects donations for prizes to gain at the expense of giving to universities. I think that is a good development. In my view the $34.9 billion Harvard University endowment is a terrible waste of money. The donors are making bad decisions when they give to Harvard. Harvard's endowment keeps growing very rapidly each year due to both great investment managers and large donations. But the same money spent on prizes and grants for research could deliver much bigger benefits.

Tyler makes a great point about the mantra we hear about "caring".

Often the exhortation is to "Care more, care more, care more". But I think that this is often counterproductive. We're just not capable of caring more. We're self-focused. Its often more useful just to admit to yourself "I don't always care that much" and just say to yourself "hey, I don't always care". What happens then. Once yo make that admission charity then becomes an area you can think about again. Because if you're always telling yourself "I must care, I must care" and you don't then thinking about charity makes you feel bad. What you do is you decide not to think about charity very much and and then you don't give a whole lot. So wake up in the morning and say to yourself "I don't care that much". That's the first step toward giving more. That's counter-intuitive. But I think it works.

I've always found the "care, care, care" message obnoxious and somehow dishonest. Most people who tell us this aren't making the level of personal sacrifice I'd expect from people who really believe that caring about the rest of the world is the secret to huge differences in behavior. I do not see them giving all their money to charities. I do not see them deciding to live in a box only big enough for a bed and toilet while they use all their wealth to help others. I do not see them switching into jobs where they can work 80 to 90 hours a week trying to create scientific and technological solutions to all the problems that cause human suffering. Mostly I see them trying to manipulate the rest of us to achieve goals they want to see achieved. That doesn't suggest they think the problems of the poor are so important that they should pay a personal heavy price. So they don't seem so caring about the world's poor as they try to pretend.

More profoundly: I'm skeptical about the efficacy of caring. Sure, some caring helps some amount. But most of the progress that has lifted humans out of short nasty lives has come due to curiosity, desire for fame, desire for higher status, desire for wealth, and other basically quite selfish desires. A focus on encouraging caring seems wasteful because it amounts to trying to tap into the wrong emotion. If your goal is to encourage people to engage in activities that will alleviate human suffering then appealing to their selfish desires and the construction of incentives that will appeal to what really motivates them seems a much more productive approach.

By Randall Parker    2007 October 14 01:28 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2007 September 23 Sunday
Gotham $1 Million Prize For Cancer Research Ideas

New York City hedge fund managers Robert Goldstein and Joel Greenblatt have created an annual $1 million prize for the best idea for cancer research of the ideas which researchers (and even the rest of us) post on their Gotham Prize web site.

A managing partner at the hedge fund Gotham Capital in New York, Mr. Goldstein recognized similarities with his own profession. Money managers also were reluctant to share investment ideas. A few years earlier, Mr. Goldstein's business partner and friend, Joel Greenblatt, the 49-year-old founder of Gotham Capital, had created an online, selective group called the Value Investors Club, to spur idea sharing. Members shared investing strategies and commented on each other's research. A cash prize was awarded for the best idea of the week.

The two men thought that perhaps a similar model would work in cancer research. So this year they agreed to put up $1 million of their own money every year to fund the Gotham Prize for Cancer Research. Modeled on the Value Investors Club, the annual prize will go to the person who posts the best new cancer-research idea, judged by a board of respected scientists, at the prize's Web site by the end of December.

The winner of the Gotham Prize doesn't have to present a shred of evidence that the premise will work. To attract ideas from people outside the field of cancer research, there is no requirement that the winner be capable of seeing the idea through. And the prize money is earmarked for personal use, to be spent on anything the winner wants, even a fancy car or a bigger house.

Got a good idea for cancer research that you think might be worth a cool million bucks? Now's your chance.

Some researchers quoted in the article are skeptical that prize money for ideas is the most efficacious way to fight cancer. But as the article also points out, lots of researchers keep their ideas secret because they want to be first to publish and get credit for a discovery that follows from a good idea. Getting more ideas out into the public domain might speed up the rate of researchers by allowing teams to incorporate more ideas from other teams into their experimental designs and strategies.

More generally, prizes for scientific discoveries are a great idea because humans respond to incentives and produce more when properly incentivized. The incentives facing academic researchers are not entirely directed toward increasing the motive to make useful discoveries. Also, academics have incentives to make their own labs look more productive even if they might have an idea that would be better tested in another lab. Academic politics and other influences create incentives that reduce the motive to discover. The need to get grants renewed can lead to conservative choices that are more likely to produce tangible results even if not immediately useful results. Tenure reduces the need to perform in research. With all these influences financial incentives can make a big difference.

Update: Modest proposal for the Gotham Prize folks: Most researchers aren't going to take the time to read all the submissions that are publically posted. You ought to provide a way for readers to assign scores to the quality of ideas so that others with limited time can come in and read, say, all the 5 star submissions. Then you run into the problem of the quality of the reviewers. Let people see who is scoring the submissions and if they recognize some name they respect let them view the list of submissions that a given reviewer scored and what score he or she assigned to each submission.

By Randall Parker    2007 September 23 01:25 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2005 November 07 Monday
$1 Million Donation To Methuselah Mouse Prize

A rich person realizes he can't take it with him.

The volunteers , donors , and members of The Three Hundred became even more certain of the Mprize's eventual success when the prize to reverse the decay and debilitation of aging benefited from the addition of a ONE MILLION DOLLAR cashier's check from an anonymous donor (and - yes - the check cleared :-). This donation makes the second major anonymous donation within the last few weeks - these donors let us know that they didn't want to become the "elephant in the room" instead preferring to direct attention to the power of prizes and the Mprize in particular to achieve the nigh unto impossible and to encourage others by their example. We would like to publicly thank those who have supported the Mprize from the beginning whether as volunteer, donor or member of The Three Hundred. It is without doubt your tireless devotion and generosity that is breathing life into this mission thus bringing us to a better place for all tomorrow. Let's make it happen sooner. Add your pebble to the landslide that will bury the suffering of aging and http://www.mprize.org/join us.

The Methuselah Mouse Prize is the premiere effort of The Methuselah Foundation™; a scientific competition designed to draw attention to the ability of new technologies to slow and even reverse the damage of the aging process, preserving health and wisdom in a world that sorely needs it.  Read More...

The Methuselah Mouse Prize (or Mprize) is a series of cash awards to scientists who develop ways to make a common lab mice live longer. The goal of the prize is to encourage scientists to develop biotechnologies that will demonstrate the practicality of life extension and that will also extend the lives of humans.

Consider what you spend money on. If you have a lot of discretionary income then ask yourself whether you'll get the most value it of it by such choices as spending on immediate desires or leaving it to your estate. Wouldn't it be better to spend it in a way that increases the odds you can become young again and live a longer, healthier, and youthful life? You can't take it with you when you die. Spend some to accelerate research to reverse aging and you'll be able to spend the rest in a very long future of youth.

The posts of blogger "Reason" played a key role in convincing the donor to pony up a cool one million dollars.

To the delight of the volunteers at the Methuselah Foundation, an anonymous donor has given $1 million to the Methuselah Mouse Prize, or Mprize for Rejuvenation, the scientific research prize aimed at bringing an end to the degenerations and indignities of aging. Volunteers for the Mprize couldn't believe it when they saw the size of the latest check: topping previous and exceedingly generous five- and six-figure donations, this was a check for $1 million out of the blue!

We stand within reach of a cure for human aging according to trailblazing biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey of Cambridge University, Chairman and Chief Science Officer of the Methuselah Foundation. Like de Grey, more and more are convinced of the power prizes have shown to make a difference to the future of healthy and longevity – and are putting their money where their hopes are!

Over the past several years, a growing band of enthusiasts - regular folk from all corners of the world have donated to the Mprize, a scientific research prize modeled on the extraordinarily successful prizes such as the Longitude Prize and the X Prize. The Mprize, or Methuselah Mouse Prize, rewards scientists who increase the maximum healthy lifespan by rejuvenating mice that are already in late middle age.

In early 2005, the Mprize hit its first million-dollar mark in pledges, entirely made up of small donations from people in more than 18 countries around the world. Today's anonymous donation will push the Mprize fund to nearly 3 million dollars.

The anonymous $1 million donor cited an initial skepticism – and then a growing understanding of the real possibility of curing aging in our lifetimes as his reason for making such a tremendous investment. He first learned about de Grey's work from the popular press. The donor then learned more by following the Fight Aging! blog (http://www.fightaging.org) and the online newsletter Longevity Meme (http://www.longevitymeme.org). Both sites explore the coming reality of life extension and how we are likely to achieve it. These blogs advocate de Grey's work and the Mprize in particular. In the Mprize, this donor saw a popular movement in the making, where every dollar in the prize fund represents a powerful voice, calling for the scientific community to take audacious yet practical steps towards real, working anti-aging medicine.

Why didn't he tell us his name? Like many who have donated, including the originator of a $125,000 grant donated earlier this year, he didn't want to become the news story. He wanted to make sure that the message was: End aging as we know it? A million times - Yes! The Mprize is an all-volunteer effort. All donations go directly into the Prize fund -- there is no overhead. This December, Mprize Three Hundred Members, the group of donors who commit to giving $1000 per year for 25 years, plan to celebrate the recent growth of the prize with a Three Hundred member dinner where the speakers will be Aubrey de Grey and Mprize donor Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity is Near

By Randall Parker    2005 November 07 08:29 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2005 March 12 Saturday
Methuselah Mouse Prize Fund Reaches $1 Million

Donations for the Methuselah Mouse Prize to extend the lives of mice have reached a commitment level of one million US dollars.

In a move that will push the Methuselah Foundation’s M Prize over the $1 million mark, Dr. William Haseltine, biotech pioneer of Human Genome Sciences fame, has joined the Three Hundred, a group of individuals who pledge to donate $1000 per year to the M Prize for the next 25 years. “I am delighted that my decision to join the Three Hundred has pushed the prize fund over its first one million dollars, which I trust is only the first of many millions,” said Dr. Haseltine of his decision. “There’s nothing to compare with this effort, and it has already contributed significantly to the awareness that regenerative medicine is a near term reality, not an IF.”

Dr. William Haseltine’s stature as the father of regenerative medicine - for his research in the field of biomedical genomics - is matched by his reputation as a creative and successful businessman. His commitment to the prize speaks to both its scientific integrity and its viability as a model for encouraging research into the science of curing aging.

“The Methuselah Foundation’s M Prize has sparked the public’s interest in regenerative biomedicine,” said Dr. Haseltine. “Encouraging researchers to compete for the most dramatic advances in the science of slowing, even reversing aging, is a revolutionary new model that is making its mark.”

Methuselah Foundation chairman Aubrey de Grey is very happy that this fund-raising milestone for the mouse longevity extension prize has been reached.

“That’s good news for those of us who are already alive,” says Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Cambridge biogerontologist and Chairman of the Methuselah Foundation. “If we are to bring about real regenerative therapies that will benefit not just future generations, but those of us who are alive today, we must encourage scientists to work on the problem of aging,” said de Grey. “The M Prize is a catalyst for research into this field. The defeat of aging is foreseeable, if we take the steps to make it happen.”

The idea behind the prize is similar to that behind the Ansari X Prize. The X Prize demonstrated that prize money can provide big incentives for people to extend the boundaries of what is possible. The M Prize is attracting scientists enticed by the idea that they could simultaneously do scientifically and medically valuable research while also possibly making themselves rich. What's not to like about that?

The Methuselah Foundation is in fact running two prize competitions for mouse life extension:

- a "Longevity Prize" (LP) for the oldest-ever Mus musculus;
- a "Rejuvenation Prize" (RP) for the best-ever late-onset intervention.

You can read the details of the eligibility for each prize and how the sizes of the awards are calculated at that link.

Aubrey de Grey believes aging can be stopped and reversed using what he calls Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS). FuturePundit agrees! You can read interviews of Aubrey about SENS here and here.

About the Methuselah Foundation.

The Methuselah Foundation is a non-profit 501c(3) organization of professional and non-professional volunteers who are dedicated to raising the awareness of the potential for near-term science-based aging interventions using modern technologies. With the map of the human genome and the power of supercomputers to guide them, competitors for monetary prizes sponsored by the Foundation are racing to be the first to develop real anti-aging therapies.

Click here to donate.

Update The Methuselah Mouse Prize reached the half million dollar mark in September 2004. So the prize appears to be averaging about $100,000 per month in donations. Obviously the idea of a prize aimed at finding ways to extend life and avoid aging is appealing to a lot of people who want to avoid growing old, weak, and sickly. My guess is that prospect of all the physical changes associated with aging (such as physical disablement, urinary incontinence, benigh prostate hyperplasia, metastatic bone cancer, colostomy bags, macular degeneration leading to blindness, the muscle wasting of sarcopenia, loss of teeth, a declining ability to maintain balance, a declining ability to handle very cold or hot weather, a reduction in coordination, knee pain, back pain, broken bones, emphysema, decline in hearing ability, and cognitive decline) are just not popular outside of the President's Council on Bioethics.

By Randall Parker    2005 March 12 02:44 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2004 October 12 Tuesday
X Prize Foundation To Offer New Round Of Prizes

Hot on the heels of the successful flights of the Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize the X Prize Foundation and the World Technology Network have banded together to announce a series of X Prizes to accomplish things down on Earth.

According to the X Prize Foundation and the World Technology Network, examples of privately-funded solutions in scientific and social fields might include the following:

1. Transportation: Demonstration of a 4-seat vehicle able to achieve 200 miles per gallon in a cross country race

2. Nanotechnology: Construction of a pre-determined molecule by an assembler

3. Aging deceleration: Extension of mammal life, or demonstrated evidence of aging reversal

4. Education: Demonstration of a self-sufficient education facility able to operate independently and educate villagers anywhere on the planet

Note item 3 above. The Methuselah Foundation Methuselah Mouse Prize aims to provide a large cash award to the first scientific team to double the life of an ordinary lab mouse. That prize needs volunteers and donors.

The WTN X Prize team is accepting suggestions from the public for prize ideas. Go click on the WTN X Prize link and you will be presented with a form for submitting suggestions. What say we kick around some ideas for prizes in the comments of this post? Anyone have any ideas?

The X Prize success demonstrates that prize money can be a very effective tool for accelerating the advance of science and technology. I favor aging research prizes aimed at the development of effective rejuvenation treatments most of all. But another class of prizes that deserves support are prizes for achievements in developing new energy technologies. What would be useful milestones in the development of better energy technologies? Keep in mind that ideal milestones should be achievable by fairly small teams of engineers and scientists.

Dave Gobel of the Methuselah Foundation alerts me to the existence of a poorly publicized prize for a cheap DNA sequencer which is being offered by Craig Venter of Celera DNA sequencing fame. Venter is offering a half million dollars to the first team to produce a sequencer that can sequence an entire human genome for $1000 or less.

ROCKVILLE, MD (September 23, 2003). The J. Craig Venter Science Foundation announced today a $500,000 Genomic Technology Prize. The prize, to be awarded one time only, is aimed at stimulating the scientific and technology research community to significantly advance automated DNA sequencing so that a human genome can be sequenced for $1,000 or less as soon as possible. The prize was announced during New Frontiers in Sequencing Technology session at the 15th annual Genome Sequencing and Analysis Conference (GSAC) in Savannah, Georgia.

Over the last decade there have been significant advances in the field of genomics. More than 150 genomes, including the human genome, have been sequenced. Despite this progress we need substantial improvement in technology so that genomics can be fully integrated into all of our lives. One such area is DNA sequencing, said J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., president and founder of The J. Craig Venter Science Foundation. By continuing to reduce the cost and increase the accuracy and speed of DNA sequencing we will enable genomics to be more fully integrated into areas such as clinical medicine. It is the hope of the Venter Science Foundation that providing this challenge to the scientific community will enable us to reach the $1,000 genome sooner.

While sequencing costs continue to decline (currently costs are approximately $300,000-$500,000 to sequence the gene and regulatory regions of a human genome) and on the order of $25 million for a 5X coverage of the genome, it is necessary that these cost decrease significantly toward the $1,000 mark. Once this threshold has been reached it will be feasible for the majority of individuals to have their genome sequenced and encoded as part of their medical record.

Dave also says that it has always been the plan for the Methuselah Foundation to offer more prizes for more goals related to rejuvenation and anti-aging therapies. Their obstacle is the need to raise the funds. They accept contributions on a web page.

By Randall Parker    2004 October 12 01:28 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (16)
2003 December 01 Monday
Worthy Cause: Fight AIDS At Home Computer Project

Reader Jonathan Swerdloff has brought to my attention what strikes me as a worthy cause: Arthur J. Olson's laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute has a distributed computing program runnable on home computers with internet connections for screening drug compounds against HIV viral proteins to discover possible HIV treatments.

Go to battle against AIDS with your computer!

"So what is FightAIDS@Home?"
FightAIDS@Home is the first biomedical distributed computing project ever launched. It is run by the Olson Laboratory at The Scripps Research Institute, and uses your computer to assist fundamental research to discover new drugs, using our growing knowledge of the structural biology of AIDS.

You can help!

"Why should I join?"
About 42 million people are living with HIV or AIDS around the world. HIV mutates and evolves very quickly. Drug resistance is on the rise. If there is any "bioterrorism" in the world, it comes from Nature itself, in the form of HIV, and we need to fight this very real and long-standing problem now - more than any other threat to humanity.

So every computer counts! Your CPU helps to screen millions of candidate drug compounds computationally against detailed models of evolving AIDS viruses—an accomplishment previously impossible without expensive supercomputers. FightAIDS@Home accelerates AIDS research by connecting you to a global "grid" of distributed computing power.

Together, we are making a difference!
Your donation of spare computer cycles helps us in our entirely non-profit, scientific endeavours. Entropia helped to launch the FightAIDS@Home project, and we are grateful for their help and donated efforts, but as of May 2003, FightAIDS@Home is no longer associated with Entropia.

About Us
Professor Olson leads a large program project funded by the National Institutes of Health to develop new approaches to discover novel AIDS therapeutics based upon our ever-increasing knowledge of the structural biology of HIV.

We are working together with other laboratories here at Scripps and elsewhere, to design, synthesize and test new HIV protease inhibitors that are better than existing drugs in defeating the virus's ability to develop drug resistance. Our collaborators include:

The Elder Laboratory - Virology
The Olson Laboratory - Computational Chemistry
The Sharpless Laboratory - Synthetic Chemistry
The Stout Laboratory - Xray Crystallography
The Torbett Laboratory - Cell Biology
The Wlodawer Laboratory - Xray Crystallography
The Wong Laboratory - Synthetic Chemistry

If there are other worthy biomedical research distributed computing projects that anyone wants to bring to my attention then please post in the comments to this post or send me an email. I'd like to build up a category archive collection of posts linking to such projects.

By Randall Parker    2003 December 01 10:50 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
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