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The Eternal Search for Every-Lasting Life
The field of ageing research has made significant progress in the past 10-15 years. The goal is not simply to live longer, but to increase our healthspan, the number of years we live in good health. This is not just a pursuit of the vain. By 2050, it is predicted that 1 in 6 humans will be over 65 years old. The burden of caring for an ageing population is increasing.
In 2016, a study led by Spanish biochemist Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte reported reduced cellular and physiological signs of ageing in living mice and extend their lifespan by an average of six weeks. Following the study’s success, Izpisúa Belmonte hailed cellular reprogramming as the “elixir of life”. Another study, published in 2020, successfully restored the eyesight of mice using the same technique.
According to Our World In Data, most countries experience a burden of disease or disability in the last 10 years of life that is largely age-related. For instance, in the USA, this burden lasts for 11+ years; in most of Europe, it is just under 10 years, with Sweden, Iran, and Turkey being the worst.
Understanding our biology is the key to unlock the ageing process
AI has been a crucial tool in ageing research, as it allows tech firms and researchers to model the way that genes, DNA, and proteins work at a cellular level. The science is looking at how the ageing process works to figure out how to change it, by studying species like the tortoise, which can live for 200 years. The biology of these species is not so different from that of humans.
All cells have DNA, which is made up of a sequence of proteins in a long line that can stretch up to 2 meters long in each cell. As each cell divides, it recreates a new strand of DNA by copying the original one, but this process can cause damage. The body's way of dealing with this is to drop the damaged bits off the DNA strand, which shortens its length and seems to be connected to longevity.
There is a process called autophagy, in which cells break down and recycle unneeded or damaged components. It helps maintain cellular health and prevents the buildup of harmful substances. The cell creates specialised structures to engulf and break down targeted material, including protein aggregates, damaged organelles, and invading pathogens. The resulting breakdown products can be used by the cell to produce energy and build new cellular components. Autophagy is associated with various health benefits, such as improved immune function, enhanced cellular metabolism, and increased longevity. Retro Biosciences is researching autophagy as part of their efforts to develop innovative therapeutics that can increase healthy human lifespans.
- $43 billion (£33 billion) on anti-ageing products in 2018 – from lactic-acid-based anti-wrinkle creams to collagen peptide tablets and anti-oxidant co-enzyme Q10 pills.
- Research from Pitchbook estimates that $559 million in venture capital was invested in US anti-ageing companies in 2017.
🎙️ Big Tech Little Tech Podcast - Anti-Ageing Technology
This is the subject of episode 21 on the Big Tech Little Tech podcast. Here's a snippet using the great podcast app, Snipd.
Find all the links, show notes and supporting material in our Substack newsletter here: ➜
The Potential of Reverse Ageing Technology
There are many reasons why reversing ageing in humans is a good thing:
- Ageing population puts pressure on the economy
- Productivity decreases and reliance on health service goes up
- Higher probability of getting serious diseases that reduce quality of life and are expensive to treat
- Chronic diseases, to which older people are particularly susceptible, make up the primary causes of death around the world
- Slowing ageing can help prevent disease and lower the risk of:
- Type II diabetes
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Targeting ageing is more attractive than treating individual conditions
- Many cultures have searched to find ways to slow down or prevent ageing altogether
- Reverse ageing technology has the potential to yield important gains for human longevity and health
- Longer healthy lifespan leads to happier and more productive individuals
- Alleviates pressure on the country’s economy and health service
As populations age, economies feel the strain of decreased productivity and increased reliance on healthcare services. Chronic diseases, which disproportionately affect older people, are the leading causes of death worldwide. However, slowing down the ageing process can help prevent such diseases and reduce the risk of conditions like Type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer. In fact, targeting ageing is more effective than treating individual conditions, as many cultures have sought ways to slow down or even prevent ageing altogether.
Reverse ageing technology has the potential to yield important gains for human longevity and health, as a longer healthy lifespan leads to happier and more productive individuals, while also alleviating pressure on the country’s economy and healthcare services.
Can Ageing Be Reversed?
Everyday metabolic reactions in our body produce toxic metabolites, which accumulate and contribute to frailty and death. ageing is governed by a balance between ageing and the repair process in the body, as well as environmental factors and genetic variants. Genes could be responsible for up to 25% of longevity, affecting cell metabolism and favoring processes that slow ageing down. Many factors contribute to human life expectancy, with smoking reducing lifespan and lowering calorie intake and regular exercise potentially extending lifespan.
While reversing ageing has been shown to be possible in some scientific experiments using human cells and simple organisms, it is not yet possible to reverse ageing in humans, despite the hype surrounding young blood transfusions in Silicon Valley.
Researchers have been studying smaller, simpler organisms like worms and mice to understand how ageing works. Interventions such as intermittent fasting and targeting the molecular proteins associated with the ageing process may provide hints for humans.
In one experimental study, researchers joined the circulatory systems of aged mice with young mice and discovered that the young mouse began to age while the old mouse became younger as their old and young blood mixed. However, it may be a while before we see a headline reading "scientists reverse ageing" in humans.
Understanding what's going on inside your body and your predisposition to certain diseases is key to reversing the ageing process. A DNA health test, such as the one offered by UK company Atlas Biomed, checks for disease risks and provides personalized tips to help prevent them so you can live longer and healthier.
Ethical questions remain about anti-ageing technology
There are several ethical arguments for and against anti-ageing research and development.
- ageing is a major cause of many diseases, and anti-ageing research could lead to new treatments and therapies that could improve the quality of life for millions of people.
- ageing-related diseases are a major economic burden on society, and reducing the incidence of these diseases could save billions of dollars in healthcare costs.
- Anti-ageing research could lead to longer, healthier lifespans for humans, which could have a positive impact on society and the economy.
- Anti-ageing research could lead to greater inequality and social unrest, as only the wealthy would be able to afford life-extending treatments.
- Anti-ageing research could divert resources away from other important areas of research, such as infectious diseases or climate change.
- Anti-ageing research could have unintended consequences, such as the creation of a population of people who live longer but suffer from chronic health problems.
- Anti-ageing research could raise ethical concerns related to the definition of what constitutes a "natural" lifespan.
It is important to consider these ethical arguments when evaluating the potential benefits and risks of anti-ageing research and development.
Here are interesting examples of science experiments using computers to slow down or reverse ageing:
- In 2018, researchers at the Salk Institute used gene therapy and stem cell techniques to reverse ageing in human cells in culture. They rejuvenated cells by turning on genes that were active in younger cells and turning off genes that were active in older cells. source
- In 2016, researchers at Harvard developed a new technique using CRISPR gene editing to reverse ageing in mice. They were able to rejuvenate the pancreas cells of older mice, restoring their ability to produce insulin. source
- Researchers at Stanford developed a blood infusion technique in 2014 that made old mice young again. They filtered the blood of young mice and then infused the plasma into old mice. The old mice showed signs of rejuvenation in the brain, muscles and other tissues. source
- Scientists at Berkeley used a virtual reality simulation in 2013 to make people feel like they were in the brain, muscles and other tissues. source
- Scientists at Berkeley used a virtual reality simulation in 2013 to make people feel like they were younger. By exposing people to VR environments and feedback designed to feel younger, they were able to significantly reduce biases and stereotypes related to ageing. source
- In 2010, researchers at the University of Florida developed a computer program that could analyze blood samples to determine a person's biological age. They found that some 60-year-olds had a biological age of 40, opening the door to potential anti-ageing therapies based on the markers used. They rejuvenated cells algorithmically. source
Ant-Ageing/ Longevity Tech Companies
Longevity research companies are working to promote healthy ageing and extend life expectancy.
A long, healthy life is something everyone has a vested interest in, but that doesn't mean it's always easy to get into longevity investing. Many longevity research companies remain private, meaning it's difficult for the average person to secure a stake.
However, investors shouldn't ignore private longevity research companies. They represent a potential opportunity to gain exposure to rapid growth in a sector that touches diverse life science markets. Plenty of private longevity research companies are working on innovative studies aimed at diseases associated with ageing, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and various cancers. If they do go public one day, investors who have them on their radar already will be ahead of the game.
1. Altos Labs
Altos Labs is a California-based biotechnology company that is dedicated to developing cellular rejuvenation programming to promote healthy cells in the human body and revive cells damaged by environmental stresses. The company has recently expanded its operations to San Diego and the UK, and is collaborating with scientists in Japan.
Since its launch after a US$3 billion investment round in early 2022, Altos Labs has attracted a lot of attention, with high-profile investors including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. The company's CEO, Hal Barron, formerly served as the president of research and development and chief scientific officer for the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.
Altos Labs has assembled a world-class team of scientists, including Jennifer Doudna, co-winner of the 2020 Nobel prize in chemistry for the development of the gene-editing tool CRISPR, and Shinya Yamanaka, winner of the 2012 Nobel prize in medicine for stem cell research. The goal of Altos Labs is to decode the pathways of cellular rejuvenation programming to create a new approach to medicine based on the emerging concepts of cellular health. "Altos seeks to decipher the pathways of cellular rejuvenation programming to create a completely new approach to medicine, one based on the emerging concepts of cellular health," said Rick Klausner, chief scientist and founder of Altos Labs and the former director of the National Cancer Institute.
Altos Labs is conducting research into the reversal of ageing in mice, finding ways to extend the human lifespan by up to 50 years, creating artificial organs, and developing new treatments for cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Additionally, the company is studying the role of epigenetics in ageing, which involves examining how environmental factors can affect gene expression and lead to ageing-related diseases. Altos Labs is also investigating senescent cells, which are cells that have stopped dividing but remain active and can contribute to age-related problems.
Altos Labs has attracted some of the world's leading scientists to work on these research projects. For example, Jennifer Doudna, the co-winner of the 2020 Nobel prize in chemistry for the development of the gene-editing tool CRISPR, is part of Altos Labs' team. The company is also collaborating with scientists in Japan and the UK to advance its research.
The implications of Altos Labs' research could be significant for the future of medicine and human health. Effective treatments for ageing-related diseases could improve the quality of life for millions of people around the world.
Altos Labs reportedly has the backing of high-profile investors, including Amazon's Jeff Bezos. However, the full list of investors has not been publicly disclosed.
2. Retro Biosciences
Retro Biosciences is a biotechnology firm based in San Francisco that specialises in cellular reprogramming, autophagy, and plasma-inspired therapeutics. The company's mission is to increase the healthy human lifespan by 10 years, focusing on the cellular driver of ageing to produce therapeutics capable of multi-disease prevention. According to the company, "By focusing on the cellular driver of ageing, Retro will produce therapeutics eventually capable of multi-disease prevention."
Retro has an all-star team headed by CEO Joe Betts-LaCroix, who co-founded OQO, the company that created the then-smallest personal Windows PC in 2000, and founded the Health Extension Foundation. Co-founder Sheng Ding is a professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of California, San Francisco, while co-founder Matt Buckley was formerly a systems integration engineer with life science firm Illumina, as well as a scientist with Global Biologics Development at Bayer Pharmaceuticals.
Of its three main areas of focus, Retro's cellular reprogramming work is the most advanced, and the company plans to work towards a clinical proof-of-concept over the next four years.
In April 2022, Retro Biosciences raised US$180 million in venture funding from undisclosed investors to take its cellular reprogramming work through clinical proof-of-concept.
Retro Biosciences is pushing the boundaries of anti-ageing research with cutting-edge research and innovative therapeutic approaches.
- Retro Biosciences is a biotechnology firm researching ways to increase healthy human lifespans by 10 years.
- Cellular reprogramming is one of the areas of focus, which is the most advanced of the three.
- Retro Biosciences plans to work towards a clinical proof-of-concept over the next four years.
- The company's ultimate goal is to produce therapeutics that can prevent multiple diseases by focusing on the cellular driver of ageing.
- Research areas include cellular reprogramming, autophagy, and plasma-inspired therapeutics.
- Retro Biosciences raised US$180 million in venture funding from undisclosed investors in April 2022 to take its cellular reprogramming work through clinical proof-of-concept.
- CEO Joe Betts-LaCroix heads an all-star team with co-founders Sheng Ding and Matt Buckley.
Autophagy is a natural process through which the body's cells break down and recycle unneeded or damaged components. It is a crucial mechanism for maintaining cellular health and preventing the buildup of harmful substances within the body. During autophagy, the cell creates specialised structures to engulf and break down the targeted material, which can include protein aggregates, damaged organelles, and invading pathogens. The resulting breakdown products can then be used by the cell to produce energy and build new cellular components. Autophagy has been linked to a variety of health benefits, including improved immune function, enhanced cellular metabolism, and increased longevity. Retro Biosciences is researching autophagy as part of its efforts to develop innovative therapeutics that can increase healthy human lifespans.
In April 2022, Retro Biosciences secured funding to add 10 years to the healthy human lifespan. The company raised US$180 million in venture funding from undisclosed investors to take its cellular reprogramming work through clinical proof-of-concept. The investment, one of the largest ever by an individual into a startup pursuing human longevity, was made by Sam Altman. Altman, who cut checks totalling $180 million to Retro, stated that he put all his liquid net worth into Retro and another company pursuing human longevity.
Elevian is a biotech company that is working to develop drugs that can help restore the body's ability to regenerate various tissues. These medications have the potential to treat and prevent a variety of diseases that are associated with ageing.
During its time at Harvard's Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, the company discovered that treatment with the circulating factor GDF11 could regenerate not only the heart and the brain, but also other human tissues, such as muscle. Due to this breakthrough, Elevian now has exclusive worldwide rights to Harvard's patent GDF11 portfolio.
Elevian is working to develop medications that use the GDF11 pathway to target age-related diseases such as strokes, diet-induced obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart failure, and Alzheimer's disease. Its lead drug candidate, recombinant human GDF11, has shown promise in preclinical models for treating these medical conditions.
"We're interested in proteins like GDF11 that are excreted into the bloodstream because they can cause changes throughout the body," said Dr. Mark Allen, CEO of Elevian, in an interview with the New York Times. "And those are the kinds of changes we want to make."
4. Insilico Medicine
Insilico Medicine is a Hong Kong-based clinical-stage biotech company that leverages artificial intelligence (AI), big data analysis, and genomics to research ageing and develop medicines for cancers, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, central nervous system diseases, and age-related diseases.
Insilico's mission is to provide AI platforms that can help identify and develop new drug candidates for untreated diseases and predict how well those treatments may perform in clinical trials.
In November 2022, Insilico signed a strategic research collaboration worth up to US$1.2 billion with Sanofi (NASDAQ:SNY), depending on the achievement of certain milestones.
The company has a large pipeline of drug candidates targeting a variety of conditions. Its most advanced program is for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a chronic scarring lung disease characterised by a progressive and irreversible decline in lung function. In January 2023, Insilico released positive top line data from this clinical trial.
"Our Pharma.AI platform has demonstrated the ability to discover novel targets and design novel molecules with a high level of translatability to human biology," said founder and CEO Alex Zhavoronkov about the top line data from the Phase 1 study of INS018_055.
"This lead program paves the way for a new era of drug discovery and development that utilises next-generation AI to identify novel targets and generate novel drugs to treat diseases requiring regular per-oral drug administration for the entire lifetime with very high safety requirements."
Watch the video inside this post to see an automated lab in simulation.
Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has a biotech innovation lab named Calico. With over $2.5 billion in R&D funding, Calico focuses on "ageing", or more precisely, anti-ageing.
One of their studies involves the ageing process in yeast cells, which they examine using their own MAD machine (Miniature-chemostat Ageing Device). By purifying 50 million-year-old cells in a single test tube, scientists are able to observe the entire ageing process in hundreds of thousands of single cells. From this, they can screen for life-extending factors and apply them to the yeast cells. The use of computer vision technology and machine learning facilitates this observation.
Alphabet established Isomorphic Labs to tackle a new realm of medication research using powerful AI algorithms. These algorithms make it easier to screen medication candidates from a pool of millions of chemicals. The first medication discovered through this method is currently undergoing clinical safety trials for a lung illness that permanently impairs organ function.
Over the last seven years, Calico has spent $2 billion (£1.5b) researching treatments "that enable people to lead longer and healthier lives."
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