The SENS Research Foundation is one of the few organizations in the world at present earnestly coordinating work on the biotechnologies needed to create treatments to halt and reverse degenerative aging. It is, like many disruptive, game-changing groups in medical research, almost entirely funded by philanthropic donations, many of which were provided by long-time readers here.
One of the ugly little secrets in life science research is that it is near impossible to obtain funding for anything other than small, incremental advances in which all of the proving work has already been accomplished on someone else's dime. New leaps in medical research are thus dependent on a mix of philanthropy and very creative budgeting. Hence when the medical community has stultified and needs to be kicked and pestered into a new era of improvement, as has been the case for aging research for at least two decades, don't look to the big established organizations to produce that change. They have suffered the fate of all establishments, ossified to the point of being incapable of revolutionary advances, or even actively resisting such change. Almost all such advances thus initially arrive from small groups that grow outside the mainstream flow of funds, making their cases incrementally, until all of a sudden there is a great shift in the tides and everyone does things the new way.
Would that there were more persistent cellular-repair-oriented initiatives like SENS aiming to upend the research community, so as to raise the odds of the great shift in aging research happening in any given year. But I think they will arrive in time. To work on repair of the causes of aging is so obvious a concept in hindsight that I don't think it can go ignored for too much longer, especially given the steadily growing interest it this field in the past few years.
The latest SENS Research Foundation newsletter arrived in my in-box today, bearing a reminder about the Rejuvenation Biotechnology Conference to be held later this year. For me, however, the best part of the newsletter is the section in which quality answers are provided to questions about the science of SENS submitted by Foundation supporters.
Question Of The Month #3: Making SENS Part Of Medicine
Q: I understand that aging specifically isn't an accepted target for therapy for regulatory purposes at present. How, then, will you get non-experimental therapies utilizing regenerative medicine techniques for the specific pathology of aging available to the common consumer?
A: That isn't nearly as big a challenge as is often portrayed. Remember, the damage-repair approach of SENS isn't an all-in-one treatment with the indication "aging," but a divide-and-conquer strategy to develop a suite of rejuvenation biotechnologies that each remove, repair, replace, or render harmless one of many specific form of cellular and molecular damage that accumulate in aging bodies. Thus, no one rejuvenation biotechnology will arrest or reverse the degenerative aging process or prevent all of its diseases and disabilities. Ironically, then, even if regulators were to develop an indication for "aging," individual rejuvenation biotechnologies wouldn't qualify!
By contrast, most forms of aging damage can be quite clearly linked with specific diseases of aging: beta-amyloid protein and malformed tau species for Alzheimer's; lysosomal aggregates in the arterial macrophage/foam cell with atherosclerosis (and through it heart attacks and stroke); cross-linked proteins with hypertension (and through it congestive heart failure, renal disease, and stroke); alpha-synuclein and Parkinson's disease; and so on.
In other cases, rejuvenation biotechnologies could initially be licensed as treatments for certain genetic disorders, even though the cause of the pathology underlying those diseases may not be related to the universal degenerative aging process. This is true, for instance, for most mitochondriopathies (inherited disorders of the mitochondria, many of which are caused by mutations in individual protein-encoding mitochondrial genes). Even though the mutations in these patients are inherited rather than acquired as a result of later metabolic mishaps, the same damage-repair approach (allotopic expression of the protein from the nucleus) can be used to replace the missing or defective protein in the mitochondrial energy-production chain and restore normal cellular function.
So the great majority of rejuvenation biotechnologies - and probably all of them - can be developed as therapies for diseases that are either already accepted as licensable indications, or in a few cases are very likely to be accepted soon (notably, sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass and quality with aging)). Whether degenerative aging is "a disease" or not, and whether it is recognized as such by regulators, is of no consequence to the practical business of turning rejuvenation biotechnology into therapies against its associated conditions.