Children: Let Them Amaze You
Why Grow Old?
When Laura Deming was eight years old, she wondered why her grandmother couldn’t play with her at the park. Laura didn’t understand what arthritis was and why the disease affected her grandmother’s mobility. She made it her mission in life to find out why and then do something about it. Aging made no sense to her young mind.
Laura applied herself to studying science and math. At age eleven, she excelled in calculus. At twelve, she happened to find out about a molecular biologist, Cynthia Kenyon at the University of California, San Francisco. Here’s the account in Nature.com according to Laura:
She studies aging, and I was reading about her, and thought, holy cow — someone is working on this stuff. So I contacted her and said, I'm 12, but I have to see if I could work in your lab. She was struck by my interest and let me come in as a volunteer. I experimented on genetically mutated strains of the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. Cynthia was my first mentor — she taught me how to think and be creative. She thinks as if there are no rules. Watching her changed how I am as a scientist in a very deep way. And working on this thing that I am passionate about changed my life.
At fourteen, Laura entered MIT. At the age of seventeen, while engrossed in her studies, Laura received word that she had landed a prestigious Thiel Fellowship. Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, began the program in 2010 as a high-profile experiment: Put $100,000 apiece in the hands of 24 entrepreneurial teenagers and give them free rein to pursue innovative ideas. The only catch is that recipients have to drop out of school for two years and move to the Silicon Valley.
Laura packed up and headed west. The entrepreneurial environment opened up greater possibilities for her mission to combat aging. This was all she needed: the combination of science and business. How can drugs get to market if all the academics are toiling under microscopes? Laura caught the venture capital bug. She is now a partner at the Longevity Fund.
Here’s an interesting quote by Laura in an article posted July 2nd, 2013 by Raluca Besliu, in Taking on the Giant, a magazine that promotes the ideas, work and accomplishments of young people who change the world.
“Anti-aging is such an important field, but it is underfunded. Building business around an anti-aging therapy is no mean feat, especially when the FDA does not recognize aging as a disease. The goal here is to create a profitable, self-sustaining structure that will fund a portfolio of anti-aging projects, and then commercialize the research. It will be important that scientists get a stable source of funding for long-term lifespan projects, and a cut of the revenue from the projects they create.”
Forbes honored Laura in their 30 under 30: Science and Healthcare.
Here’s the MIT Technology Review, “Too Young to Fail” with more about Laura.
Here’s an excerpt in Technical.ly Philly from a speech given last week by Peter Thiel at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia where he makes reference to Laura Deming’s project on aging:
In unpacking his investment approach, be it for the Thiel Foundation or his Founders Fund, Thiel talked a lot about moonshots, like curing aging. “Aging is extremely understudied,” he said. “Every disease is linked to aging, and these basic science questions are not being answered where there is a crossover to technology somewhere.”
Thankfully, the world has Laura Deming to lead the charge against aging and link the technology with appropriate funding sources to bring viable solutions to market.