Phoenix Biomolecular, an Odd Bird

A glance through the Phoenix Biomolecular website shows it to be an odd bird, appearing as something of a hybrid between interesting science and "anti-aging products" of the sort that immediately trigger my nonsense detector.

The interesting science relates to methods of manipulating cells by delivering biochemical compounds to interact with cellular machinery. If you can safely deliver enzymes, DNA, and so forth, into cells throughout the body, a range of possible technologies open up for consideration. From the sound of things, Phoenix staff are focusing on the manipulation of telomeres as a starting point.

Telomeres are the protective caps at the end of chromosomes that shorten with cell division; average telomere lengths become shorter with advancing age. Telomere length, related cell division mechanisms and the activity of telomerase (the enzyme that lengthens telomeres) are associated with aging, cancer and the properties of embryonic stem cells, amongst other important areas. The interplay between lengthening, shortening and cell division is supposedly a finely balanced evolutionary compromise between death by aging and death by cancer. The telomere theory of aging, which supposes all aging to stem from telomere erosion, is largely discredited, however.

That said, the manipulation of telomeres has shown promise for a range of therapies for age-related conditions. Telomere therapies are hoped to rejuvenate the aging immune system, or halt cancer, to pick two examples.

So on to the nonsense-triggers: the Phoenix website gives prominent space to the concept of skin rejuvenation via anti-aging creme. I'll be the first to admit that skin rejuvenation is a worthy goal for a number of actual therapeutic reasons that have nothing to do with appearance, but that just isn't coming across in the Phoenix presentation. Their online materials presently look and read much like those put out by the dubious end of the "anti-aging" marketplace. Whatever the merits of Phoenix's scientific approach and their team, their public face just isn't giving me the warm and fuzzies I'd expect from a company performing serious work on age-related conditions.

So we shall see. Best of luck to the Phoenix team if they are indeed a serious venture with good backing.

While we're on the subject of telomeres, you might be interested to read Aubrey de Grey's WILT proposals. He thinks we should indeed be lengthening telomeres be removing telomerase throughout the body as a way to counteract cancer - an ambitious undertaking, and one of the more speculative components of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS). To my mind, any sufficiently effective range of cancer therapies and preventions would do the job. The size of the boat and the amount of paddling don't necessarily matter so long as you make it across the river.

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> While we're on the subject of telomeres, you might be
> interested to read Aubrey de Grey's WILT proposals. He
> thinks we should indeed be lengthening telomeres
> throughout the body as a way to counteract cancer

No -- just the opposite! WILT proposes to delete the genes for telomerase (and also some yet-unidentified genes needed for ALT, the telomerase-independent telomere lengthening mechanism seen in a minority of cancers), and counteract the deleterious side-effeects of this treatment on rapidly renewing tissues like blood and skin by periodic stem cell replacement.

Posted by: Aubrey de Grey at December 6th, 2005 3:59 AM

Arg, of course; apologies. That's what I get for posting late and in a hurry.

Posted by: Reason at December 6th, 2005 9:24 AM
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