Insight Into Sierra Sciences

Sierra Sciences is one of a number of small companies working on telomeres and telomerase with an eye to engineering therapies for age related disease or perhaps even rejuvenation of some form.

Sierra Sciences, LLC. (Sierra) is a biotech research company located in Reno, Nevada. Our mission is to discover a medicine to prevent and/or reverse cellular senescence (the phenomenon where cells lose the ability to divide).

We believe that cellular senescence is an underlying cause of many conditions in cells which are related to the diseases of human aging, including aging itself.

Senescent cells are almost certainly not good: they build up with age, and secrete unwanted biochemicals that contribute to cancer risk in surrounding tissue, amongst other bad behavior. I've written about Sierra Sciences before, back when I wasn't so sold on the efficacy of this line of research.

The past few years have not been kind to the telomere theory of aging as it originally stood - that telomere shortening alone causes aging. The contribution of shortened telomeres to the plot is more complex and not yet well understood; a great deal is yet to be learned about the underlying biochemistry and genetics. Scientists are still obtaining apparently contradictory results in telomere and telomerase research, which indicates that the fundamentals are not yet clear.

Fortunately, the possibilities of science are not bounded by my opinions and things have a way of coming back into focus. Recently research strongly suggests that telomeres and telomerase are very connected to the age-related decline of mitochondria, and that progress in understanding how and why this is so may ultimately lead to longevity-enhancing interventions on that front.

In any case, you'll find an presentation by Laura Briggs of Sierra Sciences over at Future Current, given at the Understanding Aging conference earlier this year. It's an eye opener for those folk who are under the impression that there's any such thing as "simple science":

In cells, in cell culture anyway, preventing telomere shortening will extend the healthspan and lifespan of those cells. Unfortunately, we do not know if that is going to apply to humans. Can we extrapolate what we know about cell cultures to humans? That is a question that has not been answered yet. That is the fundamental question that Sierra Sciences is attempting to answer. We would love to get to this point and answer this question.


There are a number of diseases that could be helped by the prevention of telomere shortening. With that I will start with what I came here to talk about, which are some of the tools that we are using in the struggle to keep our telomeres long. Sierra Sciences has been in existence for about nine years. We have worked really hard trying to figure out all we can about telomerase. ... We now have a 300,000 compound library and are searching for compounds that will turn on telomerase.


A bizarre company. They seem to have all their eggs in the Telomere lengthening basket. Which leads to quite a few questions: why ? Who would fund such a thing and to what tune ? If this company has been around 9 years, what have they produced, it looks like nothing ?

In their news piece, they talk about 1000 year lifespans without having even a shred of evidence to support such a claim.

Posted by: joel at December 6th, 2008 5:13 PM

Good questions from Joel. Others have asked these questions also over the years. Sierra Sceinces does indeed have its focus on telomeres and telomerase. Funding is from some visonary "angel" investors. Thier belief is that if treatments can be found for any of the diseases of aging, the market potential will be large as well as relieving much suffering. While SS has no medicines yet, it has discovered several compounds that induce telomerase. This is believed to be a first. Current funding allows research spending of $300k per month. If this were increased substantually, progress could be accelerated.

Posted by: Richard Offerdahl at December 9th, 2008 8:33 AM

a journal article this month from Cancer Center of Spain reports a 38% increase in lifespan in mice bred to have multiple (increased) telomerase genes. The catch: the mice were also bred to be cancer resistant. Without this, people with lots of telomerase would get cancer. So how is Sierra dealing with that ?

Perhaps the other most interesting thing to come of telomere studies is the Nov. 2007 finding higher levels of vitamin D correlate with longer telomeres. But at the same time, vitamin D prevents various cancers. Now that is quite a trick, knowing what we know about telomerase.

Posted by: joel at December 9th, 2008 8:07 PM

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