Jason Hope is one of the more generous philanthropists to have funded projects in rejuvenation biotechnology carried by under the auspices of the SENS Research Foundation. His funds went towards making a start on breaking down glucosepane cross-links in old tissues, thereby removing its contribution to loss of skin elasticity, arterial stiffening, and other forms of degeneration caused when sugar compounds link proteins together in ways that hamper tissue function. This buildup of cross-links is an important aspect of numerous age-related medical conditions, but in principal it and its effects are reversible - if the glucosepane can just be safely removed.
The challenge here is twofold: firstly that there are few tools in the biotechnology toolkit for working with glucosepane and similar compounds, and secondly that the people involved in most ventures in medical research are not going to break new ground by building tools when there are a thousand other potentially profitable things they could be doing for which the tools already exist. Unfortunately those other profitable activities don't fix the glucosepane problem. This is where the network of researchers, advocates, and philanthropists connected to the SENS Research Foundation really shines: acting together they can find this sort of blockage in research where a comparatively small effort can push a field over the hump and make it much more attractive for development.
In any case, Jason Hope isn't just interested in glucosepane. In recent months he's published a series of articles that covers more of the SENS portfolio of research projects. Aging is a phenomenon caused by a number of fundamental processes, and all of them will have to be addressed in some meaningful way in order to achieve rejuvenation of the old and indefinite postponement of all age-related disease. If any one of the contributing causes of aging were removed as if by magic tomorrow, then the others would still kill us on roughly the same time frame of a normal present day human life span.
In the article quoted below, Hope looks at one of the areas of SENS that I feel needs less help than the others. Numerous different types of important cells are damaged or lost over the course of aging, such as stem cells and long-lived nerve cells, and these must be replaced or repaired to restore function. Fortunately there is an enormously active medical research and development community focused on the manipulation and use of stem cells so as to do just this. These researchers just need to be steered into focusing a little more on aging in the context of their work, but even this is not a huge challenge: all of the most profitable potential applications of cell-based regenerative medicine involve the treatment of age-related conditions. The stem cell community is thus already forced into the position of needing to figure out how to overcome the effects of aging on stem cells - and eventually on cells in general - in order to reliably treat the majority of their potential patients.
This is of course not to say that everything is rosy, and that there are no lagging areas that need attention, but the situation is far better than is presently the case for most of the rest of the technologies that need to be produced to form a near future comprehensive toolkit of rejuvenation treatments. One area in which the SENS Research Foundation is intervening to accelerate progress is that of thymic regeneration, restoring an old thymus to its youthful structure and function and thus boost immune system activity. This is something that does not attract as much attention as it might from the broader research community perhaps because it is natural for the thymus to atrophy quite early in life, and there is a strong - and frankly rather silly - bias in much of the medical establishment against anything that might be perceived as enhancement.
In many tissues, the body tries to replace lost cells quickly with specialized, tissue-specific stem cells. Exercise can stimulate the division of specialized stem cells in muscle tissue, for example. This works well in young bodies but over time, the degenerative process of aging makes older stem cells less effective at repairing damaged cells. Additionally, some tissues are not equipped with such specialized stem cells: in such tissues, the cells a person has in early adulthood are all he or she has to last a lifetime.
This is especially significant when long-lived tissue, like that in the brain, heart and muscles begins to lose cells and the ability to function well. Decreased cell count and poor function in the brain causes neuron loss that contributes to cognitive decline, dementia, and loss of muscle coordination. Diminished cell count causes skeletal muscles to weaken and fail to respond to exercise. Cell loss in heart tissues results in poor cardiovascular function associated with old age and invites a host of cardiac conditions.
Nowhere, perhaps, is cell loss more devastating than in the thymus. The thymus is a pyramid-shaped organ in the chest, located between the breastbone and the heart. Before birth, throughout childhood and into puberty, the thymus is instrumental in the production and maintenance of a specific type of white blood cell that protects the body from viruses and other threats. This white blood cell, known as T-lymphocytes or T cells, is essential to human immunity. It circulates around the body, searching for cellular abnormalities and infections.
The thymus begins to shrink after puberty, and its functional tissue is slowly replaced with fat. The organ slows T-cell production as it shrinks. This leaves the aging person increasingly vulnerable to infectious diseases, including influenza and pneumonia. Engineering a youthful thymus, therefore, would help restore a youth immune system.
SENS Research Foundation funding is helping Dr. John Jackson's lab at the Wake Forest University Institute for Regenerative Medicine investigate the potential to engineer a new thymus gland to restore a youthful and vital immune function. SENS Research Foundation continues to work towards reversing the detrimental effects of aging that cause widespread and unnecessary debilitation and misery among the older population. Their advances in preventing cell loss in vital organs can vastly improve the lives of the aging population that now inhabits planet earth.