Wanted: Innovative ideas promoting healthy longevity

NAM Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards offers $50k seed funding to bold ideas that can extend the human healthspan.

As part of the Healthy Longevity Global Competition, the National Academy of Medicine is seeking ideas that promote health, functioning, meaning, purpose, and/or dignity for people as they age for the 2024 cycle of its US-based Catalyst Awards.

Longevity.Technology: Bold is the watchword for these awards, with the NAM actively seeking exciting and transformative new or early-stage projects that aim to extend the human healthspan, in turn allowing individuals to stay active in their communities, families, and the workforce well into their later years. The NAM especially welcomes approaches that challenge existing paradigms or propose new methodologies or concepts. High-risk ideas that could potentially yield high rewards and, in turn, dramatically change the field of healthy longevity are encouraged, and ideas or projects that aim to reduce health disparities, promote health equity, combat ageism, or apply human-centered design principles to engage older adults in the work, are also of high interest to the NAM.

NAM is accepting applications – a straightforward two-page narrative – until 11 March 2024, 11:59 pm EST

Awardees will each receive a cash prize of US$50,000 and join a global network of innovators with exclusive opportunities to compete for additional funding, as in addition to the winners, all applicants advancing to the final stages of the Catalyst Award review process are automatically considered for subsequent funding in the form of an Accelerator Award; this is the second phase of the Global Competition, and is worth from US$150,000 to more than US$1 million.

The eligibility criteria are:

  • Principal investigators and their organization (if applicable) must be based in the US.
  • Projects must aim to improve the mental, physical, or social health and well-being of individuals and can focus on any stage of life, as long as they ultimately promote health for people as they age.
  • Projects can come from any field, background, industry, or specialty (or a combination thereof).
  • Innovative, “outside-the-box” ideas and early-stage projects are encouraged.

To find out more about the motivation behind the awards, we sat down with Michele Toplitz, Director of the NAM Healthy Longevity Global Grand Challenge.

She told us that it is vital to promote healthy longevity on a global scale, so the Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards form part of a larger initiative.

Wanted: Innovative ideas promoting healthy longevity
Michele Toplitz is the Director of the NAM Healthy Longevity Global Grand Challenge

“Dramatic breakthroughs in medicine, public health, and social and economic development have resulted in unprecedented extensions of the human lifespan over the past century,” Toplitz. “As of 2018, for the first time ever, people over the age of 65 started to outnumber those under five. By 2050, 1 in 6 people worldwide will be over the age of 65, and the global population of the ‘oldest old’ – people aged 80 and older – is expected to triple.”

Toplitz explains that the National Academy of Medicine recognized not only the urgency, but also the immense opportunity presented by this demographic shift, and in 2019, it launched the Healthy Longevity Global Grand Challenge – a worldwide movement to improve physical, mental, and social well-being for people as they age.

The initiative has two components: (1) the Global Roadmap for Healthy Longevity, an evidence-based report authored by an international commission on the challenges and opportunities presented by global aging (published in 2022) and (2) the Healthy Longevity Global Competition, a series of inducement awards and prizes to catalyze breakthrough innovations to extend the human healthspan.

“Under the Healthy Longevity Global Competition, Catalyst Awards are open to innovators in more than 50 countries and territories!” says Toplitz, explaining that since 2020, the NAM and 11 global partners have issued 540 Catalyst Awards worth $27.5 million.

“The Global Competition seeks innovative ideas from all disciplines and sectors that aim to improve health as we age,” said Toplitz, adding that a major component of the application review process assesses the level of innovation of the proposed idea. “All global awardees’ projects are listed online, and one can get a sense of the range of projects by viewing titles of the award-winning projects in the US from 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023.”

Longevity.Technology was interested to note the inclusion of social health among the targets.

Toplitz explains that the International Commission that authored the NAM’s Global Roadmap for Healthy Longevity defined healthy longevity in terms of physical, cognitive and social functioning, with all three enabling well-being across populations.

“Similarly, according to WHO, health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.

“With respect to social health, for example, the Global Roadmap recognizes the social benefits generated by people living, working, volunteering, and engaging longer and opportunities for purposeful engagement by older people, in general. The public health risk of social isolation and loneliness also cannot be overstated.”

Toplitz explains that when it comes to the Healthy Longevity Global Competition, the NAM and its global partners seek bold, new ideas to improve health as people age from any field or combination of fields – and this includes data science, policy and behavioral and social sciences, as well as biology, medicine and technology.

“While we support many projects in the basic and biomedical sciences, innovative approaches to foster social well-being are also very much encouraged.”

Individuals and teams may learn more and complete the simple two-page application here.

Photograph courtesy of Michele Toplitz