One of the fellows at young biotech company Genescient, who has also volunteered for the Methuselah Foundation in the past, has been bugging me to talk about the company. So here I am, talking about Genescient. The company website does a better job than I would do in explaining what they're up to and where they're going:
Genescient has a proprietary screen for substances that can extend human lifespan and healthspan. Using genetically selected long lived Drosophila and the latest genetic tools, Genescient has identified over 100 gene networks that are altered in long lived strains of Drosophila melanogaster and that are also linked to longevity and age-related diseases in humans.
In essence, you might envision Genescient as what you get when you add very rapid progress in biotechnology (and falling cost in biotech tools) to the basic aims of Sirtris. Find longevity genes and manipulate their expression for benefit and profit in other words, but where Sirtris's initial development back before 2004 focused on just a few genetic networks, Genescient is aiming for "all of them." Even in five years, costs have fallen and tools improved significantly - think about the computer you were using in 2003, for example, and compare it to the machine you're using today.
Like Sirtris, Genescient is firmly an outgrowth of the "work to slow down aging via metabolic and genetic manipulation" faction of aging research. They are not aiming to identify and repair biochemical damage, but rather shift the operation of human biochemistry into a more beneficial state for long-term operation. I'd insert the obligatory comment on how this approach is not the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, and even if wildly successful in decades to come will do little for those already old, but you're all probably all tired of hearing it by now.
Reading between the lines ("nutrigenomic supplements?"), it looks like the Genescient founders might choose to monetize the results of their work in the supplement marketplace rather than take the Sirtris path of big pharma and the FDA. If that's the case, I couldn't say I blame them: you'd have to be extraordinarily dedicated - or foolish - to want to deal with the state of medical regulation in the US if there was a viable alternative option to make your investors happy. This is one of the reasons why the US research industry is basically doomed absent a revolution. That all said, the supplement industry is what it is; if you want to relegate yourself to irrelevance in the ongoing quest to cure aging, history suggests that entering the supplement market will achieve that end. Scylla on the one hand, Charybdis on the other - and going overseas to less oppressive regulatory regions in order to develop research into applications is looking ever more like the best option.
Regardless, I think the most useful output for the long term arising from the work taking place at Genescient will likely be a wealth of data on how gene expression changes occurring with aging relate to forms of biochemical damage that are thought to cause aging. Are gene expression changes responses to damage, or are they genetic programs that themselves cause damage? Or both, or neither? How important is each particular change? These are vital questions if your goal is to revert gene expression changes in search of beneficial effects, but this data will also help those who seek to directly repair the damage itself. There's no such thing as useless information in biotechnology.