One of the root causes of aging is the formation of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), something that happens much faster in a diabetic metabolism, but which nonetheless happens to all of us and causes progressively greater harm as the years pass. AGEs gum together and disable vital protein machinery, and also hammer on cell receptors in ways that cause chronic inflammation and other ills.
Past work on ways to break down AGEs - AGE-breaker drugs - largely occurred prior to the present rapid pace of development in biotechnology, and was both laborious and ultimately of little use in people despite promising animal studies. It turned out that the most important types of AGE in long-lived humans are not the same as in short-lived rodents, and thus drugs that help rats do little for people. However, one single form of human AGE - glucosepane - does make up the vast, overwhelming majority of AGEs in tissues such as skin. So it is a very viable, narrow target now that the research community knows enough to identify it as the primary target.
A safe way to remove glucosepane is needed in order to largely eliminate this contribution to degenerative aging. Sadly, as for much of the foundations of future rejuvenation therapies, little work and funding is directed to this end. This is thus one of the areas in which the SENS Research Foundation hopes to step in and spur greater interest and progress. Here are some notes on the current research programs funded by the Foundation to this end:
Chemical "crosslinking" of the structural proteins of our arteries slowly stiffens them with age, leading to more rigid blood vessels, rising "systolic" blood pressure (the first or top number in a blood pressure reading), and eventually to the loss of the ability of the kidneys to filter toxins from our blood, and a rising risk of stroke with age. Rejuvenation biotechnology can prevent these scourges at their source. New medicines that break apart these molecular "handcuffs" would allow the proteins of the arteries could move freely again, restoring the supple flexibility and cushioning capacity of aging arteries to youthful health and functionality. As a result, damage to the kidneys would be prevented, and strokes averted.
With a generous donation from software entrepreneur Jason Hope, SENS Research Foundation and the Cambridge University Institute of Biotechnology have established a new SENS Research Foundation Laboratory at Cambridge. With no one else taking on this challenging, critical research, the scientists in the Cambridge SENS lab will initiate work on biomedical solutions to glucosepane crosslinks starting from the ground up - with research to develop reagents that can rapidly and specifically detect proteins that have been crosslinked by glucosepane. The development of such reagents is an indispensible enabling technology for the development and testing of candidate glucosepane-breaking drugs.
In parallel, SENS Research Foundation is also providing funding to Dr. David Spiegel's group at Yale University, which has special expertise in making glycation crosslinks and which has recently been studying the mechanisms and chemical vulnerabilities of precursors of glucosepane. Dr. Spiegel's group has also recently published a report clarifying how the first generation crosslink-breaking drug worked. Once the Cambridge SRF lab has successfully established methods for identifying proteins that have been handcuffed together by glucosepane, Dr. Spiegel's group will use them to begin developing potential glucosepane-cleaving agents. Completing the cycle, candidate agents can then be tested at the Cambridge center - initially in tissue culture, and eventually in vivo.
Once developed, any glucosepane-labeling reagents that emerge from the first phase of this work will made available as openly as possible, to accelerate research into the role of crosslinks in disease and aging, and into ways to combat them.