The next big thing coming out of Silicon Valley might be a way for people to stay younger for longer. The MIT Technology Review reports that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Russian-Israeli billionaire Yuri Milner have invested in Altos Lab, a BioTech company that is investigating rejuvenation techniques at a cellular level.
The company has not made any announcements yet but it has raised $270 million dollars and attracted quite the talent from across the globe thanks to extremely generous salaries. The scientific goal is to master the ability to perform cellular reprogramming. In the specific, it’s about understanding how cells age and how to actually turn the clock back on that process.
Now cell reprogramming is an exciting new avenue of investigation for a wide array of therapies. The control of the cellular processes could make many diseases a thing of the past. Examples often put forward are Parkinson's disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. But humanity is nowhere near being able to do any of that. When it comes to aging, some exciting discoveries have already happened.
“Cellular reprogramming is one of the wildest and most exciting ideas in ageing biology right now—that just four genes, originally uncovered trying to understand stem cells, seem capable of turning back the biological arrow of time as well is pretty amazing,” Andrew Steele, scientist and author of Ageless – a book on the science of aging – told IFLScience.
“This is very well understood in cells, and we’ve taken some first steps in whole animals—the question is, whether we can understand enough about it to turn the findings into workable treatments. I’m excited enough to think it’s definitely worth a shot!”
Major hurdles, both biological and technical, lie ahead for understanding this. And just because this approach has potential, it does not mean scientists will be able to deliver on those promises.
“My main note of caution is that the ageing process is highly multifaceted—in my book, I talk about ten ‘hallmarks’ of the ageing process, though some scientists have slightly different lists—and it’s not necessarily obvious that rejuvenating cells will be enough to tackle all of the biological changes we see with age,” Steele told IFLScience. “If reprogramming works, it might be that other treatments are needed in combination with it to realise its true potential—and it would be a great shame if we’ve failed to develop them in the meantime.”
Rejuvenation is not just about vanity. For sure, society has an unhealthy focus on being young and conventionally attractive. Ads and news pieces so often target our insecurities about aging. But aging also means more health risks and worst outcomes when it comes to disease. If aging could be slowed, halted, or maybe even reversed it would have hugely beneficial effects on society. Not just moral but also economical.
A paper early this year suggested that one extra year of healthy life will be worth $38 trillion to the US economy. If such rejuvenation treatments were available there would be plenty of reasons to take them. And there’s no reason not to expect them to be available if they work. Such an approach would not be delivered in a shiny pink vial by Isabella Rossellini (one could wish). It will be tested in large clinical trials. Whether they’d be affordable and not subject to the many social inequalities that plague the medical landscape today is another thing.
[H/T: MIT Technology Review]