Investors are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into research designed to minimize the harms of aging through genetic engineering. The San Diego-based biotech, Rejuvenate Bio, added to the flurry of research in this area with a preprint article (not peer-reviewed) that appeared on the bioRxiv website. In the paper, Rejuvenate scientists presented the widely anticipated results of their cell reprogramming research in mice. They concluded that the findings “engender cautious optimism that a partial rejuvenation therapy can be safely delivered in humans.”
Extending Life and Health
The goal of Rejuvenate Bio’s technology is to genetically reset cells to a younger state and minimize the usual deteriorations associated with aging. Research using proteins known as Yamanaka factors had previously established that individual cells, when exposed to the proteins, could revert to younger stem cells. In the new study, Rejuvenate scientists used gene therapy to deliver the same technology into 124-week-old mice (equivalent to 77 human years).
Following the intervention, the treated mice in the experiment lived an additional 18 weeks, on average, compared to an additional nine weeks for untreated mice. The treated mice also had better overall health.
The research follows other studies that have evaluated the effects of delivering the Yamanaka factors to mice of various ages but the treated mice in those studies were not as close to the end of the natural lifespan. Noah Davidsohn, Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of Rejuvenate, reported to MIT Technology Review, that, although the effects of the recent research are modest, “This is a powerful technology, and here is the proof of concept. I wanted to show that it’s something we can do in our elderly population.”
Genetic reprogramming has a significant advantage over other longevity interventions. Although drugs, such as rapamycin, have been shown to extend the lifespan in mice, the benefits of the genetic technology are immediate and long-lasting.
While questions remain about the mechanics of aging and the potential to someday reverse human aging through genetic engineering, one certainty exists — investors strongly support the research efforts. Altos Labs, for one, has raised more than $3 billion, which may be the single largest startup fundraising achievement ever. NewLimit, headed by billionaire Brian Armstrong who cofounded Coinbase, brought in $105 million in funding. In addition, Retro Biosciences raised $180 million.
For the moment, Rejuvenate is working on gene therapy drugs for dogs and humans, including a therapy to treat heart failure. In the long-term, the company hopes to apply their reprogramming technology to rejuvenate humans. But first, further research is needed to determine how the genetic changes in the mice work to extend their lifespan.
In the meantime, competing companies are also developing reprogramming drugs, aimed at specific organs. Turn Bio, for example, is focusing its efforts on reprogramming skin cells to reduce wrinkles and combat hair loss, and Life Biosciences is developing technology to reprogram eye cells to treat blindness. From organ-specific efforts like these to whole-animal rejuvenation efforts, scientific advancements to extend health span and longevity will continue to capture investors’ attention and the public’s imagination.
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