Aubrey de Grey at the Launching Longevity Panel, and Announcing Acceptance of the First Paper to be Published on MitoSENS Research

Today I'll direct your attention to a couple of videos, thematically linked by the presence of Aubrey de Grey, cofounder of the SENS Research Foundation and tireless advocate for progress towards working rejuvenation therapies. For the first of the videos, de Grey recently took part in a panel discussion involving representatives of the biotechnology industry, the research establishment, and venture capital community, with the topic being the coming development of a new industry that will develop therapies to extend healthy life and turn back aging. That industry has barely started to form its earliest and smallest stage today, as the first lines of rejuvenation research reach the point of commercial viability. There are a few startups and a lot of deep pockets yet to be convinced that this is going somewhere - though the commentary in the panel is encouraged, considering those involved.

The recent Rejuvenation Biotechnology 2016 conference hosted by the SENS Research Foundation was more along the same lines, focused on creating a foundation for the near future industry that will build and provide rejuvenation therapies. The purpose of the conference series is to help smooth the way for these treatments to move rapidly from the laboratory to the clinic, to build the necessary relationships, manage expectations, and pull in the additional support needed to make best possible progress. The conference was livestreamed over the past couple of days, and at one point Aubrey de Grey announced the just-then-and-there acceptance of the first scientific publication for the MitoSENS team at the SENS Research Foundation. They are presently in the lead, at the cutting edge, among the few groups working on the project of copying mitochondrial genes into the cell nucleus to protect them from the damage of aging. Ultimately, copying all thirteen genes should completely remove the contribution of mitochondrial damage to degenerative aging, as mitochondria will no longer become dysfunctional as their local DNA is damaged. They will get the proteins they need from the cell nucleus instead. It is a worthy project, and it is always welcome to see progress on this front.

Launching Longevity: Funding the Fountain of Youth

Can technology make human longevity a reality? As the pace of discovery accelerates, scientists and entrepreneurs are closing in on the Fountain of Youth. Disrupting the aging process by hacking the code of life, promises better health and longer maximum lifespans. With many layers of complexity from science to ethics, there are still skeptics placing odds against human longevity. Venture capitalists are betting on success; putting big money on the table to fund longevity startups. Google/Alphabet and drugmaker AbbVie have invested $1.5 billion on Calico, while Human Longevity Inc. recently raised $220 million from their Series B funding round. Complementing traditional venture investment, VCs like Peter Thiel and Joon Yun have established foundations and prizes to accelerate the end of aging. Why are VCs suddenly investing heavily in longevity startups? Will extended lifespan be a privilege of the wealthy or will the benefits be accessible to all? How long before these well-funded startups bring viable products to market?

Aubrey de Grey Announces Progress in MitoSENS

Ok everybody, before I introduce the next session I just wanted to make a very small, brief, but very welcome announcement. Literally half an hour ago we received some extremely good scientific news. Those of you who have been following SENS research since before the SENS Research Foundation itself even existed will know that, about a decade ago, the very first project, the very first research program that we were able to initiate - with the help of, especially, the initial donation of Peter Thiel - was to make mitochondrial mutations harmless by essentially putting backup copies of the mitochondrial DNA into the nuclear genome, modified in such way of course that the encoded proteins would be colocated back into the mitochondria to do their job. This is an idea that was first put forward more than 30 years ago, but it is an idea that despite quite a bit of initial effort, nobody was able to make work. When I first came across this concept, in fact I'd thought of it myself, it's a pretty obvious idea really, I came to the conclusion that a lot of the despair and despondency and pessimism about this approach was premature, and that it was worth having another go, and so that was the very first project we decided to fund.

Suffice to say that it has not been quite as easy as I was hoping to make progress in that space, but progress has now been made, step by step, over the past several years, with the help especially of the absolutely amazing team we have at the research center, who work on this, headed by Matthew O'Connor. Amutha Boominathan is the number two on the team, and is absolutely indispensable, I've no idea where we'd be without her. So, what's happened half an hour ago is that for the very first time in the entire history of this project, we have got far enough to have a paper accepted in a very nice journal, Nucleic Acids Research, which reports on our progress in this area. The headline result in this paper is that we are the first team ever to get two of the proteins encoded by genes in the mitochondrial DNA simultaneously functioning in the same cell line, and of course - two is equivalent to infinity for mathematicians, you know that, right? - this is extremely heartening news, and I just wanted to let you all know, thank you.


MitoSENS question: So lets say we manage to successfully transfer all 13 mitochondrial genes into the nucleus tomorrow. How would we then go about designing a therapy for humans? A gene therapy I suppose, but there are 37 trillion cells in many different forms in our body and gene therapy presumably cannot "reach" all of them and is not 100% efficient. See where I'm going with this? The whole thing is just mind-boggling. Will appreciate any insight any of you might have to put me at ease. ;)

Posted by: Denis at August 18th, 2016 6:33 PM

That's a great question Denis. I haven't followed that subject, so I too would appreciated to be educated on the matter.

Posted by: Spede at August 18th, 2016 7:01 PM

@Denis: Cell coverage is something that has to be solved for any type of adult gene therapy. There are a lot of researchers aiming to build gene therapies, and all of them have this as an item on the to-do list. So I'm not too concerned about it; there will be a wide variety of approaches and progress towards the goal has already been observed in some gene therapies. E.g.:

Posted by: Reason at August 18th, 2016 7:06 PM

Here is a small crowd funded study for delivering whole CAS9 proteins to cells in bacterial outer membrane vesicles, rather than delivering a plasmid encoding the CAS9 protein. The advantage being that there will be only 1 CAS9 protein in the cell, not loads produced by the plasmid for as long as it is functional.

CAS9 is good at cutting out genes or bits of genes, but is still horribly inefficient at inserting new genetic material.

Posted by: Jim at August 19th, 2016 12:55 AM

Personally I think, integrating this into a cell therapy would be the easiest method in the short term.

On the other hand if you're going to do a cell therapy you might as well try to rescue the cells by providing mitochondria and lysosomes and whatnot from the cells being transplanted.

George Church recently was interviewed and he had some very harsh things to say about CRISPR - basically he said it's worthless for human translation and he's more hopeful about future tech.

There is the question of cost as well, the typical gene therapy right now costs half a million $ or more. That will change eventually I suppose but with all the talks about extending patents in the medical field beyond 20 years I heard on the conference I'm starting to doubt the costs will drop significantly. And sure as hell they will not drop fast.

Posted by: Anonymoose at August 19th, 2016 1:57 AM

Congratulations for the paper accepted!

Posted by: Antonio at August 19th, 2016 2:06 AM

Can you link to anything with George Church saying this about crisper? I can't find anything, and it's all him speaking positively about its potential.

Posted by: Ham at August 19th, 2016 9:47 AM

Big money in longevity startups simply says an anti-aging technology will have to yield billions in profits. How will the masses afford such an elitist approach? What if someone figures out how to achieve super-longevity on the cheap, less than a dollar a day? That will be dismissed and thrown under the rug for sure. At this point it's probably best to stick with diets, or un-diets (calorie restriction) as you save money. Efforts to achieve 120-year lifespans/healthspans need to be balanced by reduction in costs to treat each and every disease versus simply address aging. But how will modern medicine depart from its one-drug for one-disease approach that exists today? Conquer aging and there should be huge net savings, not necessarily a jackpot for the billionaires who provide capital.

Posted by: Bill Sardi at August 21st, 2016 10:45 AM

@Bill Sardi:

"Big money in longevity startups simply says an anti-aging technology will have to yield billions in profits."

Huh?? Total amount invested in SENS R&D (for profit and not for profit) probably don't pass the 50 million mark. OTOH, there are literally billions of potential clients.

"What if someone figures out how to achieve super-longevity on the cheap, less than a dollar a day? That will be dismissed and thrown under the rug for sure."

Yeah, what inventors do is to develop new technologies and then throw them under the rug and stick to old technology...

"At this point it's probably best to stick with diets, or un-diets (calorie restriction) as you save money."

Yeah, best to stick to useless therapies that don't even extend life in monkeys. Unless it means "best for a supplement seller like me", heh?

Posted by: Antonio at August 22nd, 2016 12:06 PM

The most comical thing is, this Bill Sardi bills himself as "an irrepressible consumer advocate, author, tireless researcher and investigator". Ha ha oh wow. "An irresponsible devil's advocate, propagandist, tireless marketer and disinformer" would better qualify this kind of vulture who knows no shame.

Posted by: Spede at August 22nd, 2016 2:16 PM

Please try to restrict yourselves to critiquing the message rather than the messenger.

Posted by: Reason at August 22nd, 2016 2:29 PM
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