Some of the world’s richest people have commandeered space travel by building and launching private rocket ships. Now, they’re setting their sights on anti-aging medicine.
Is it a billionaire vanity project, or a genuine opportunity that will result in longer and healthier lives for all of us?
With $3 billion in start-up funding alone, and top anti-aging scientists on board, physicist and entrepreneur Yuri Milner, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and other wealthy tycoons launched Altos Labs in January. The biotech company aims “to restore cell health and resilience to reverse disease, injury, and disabilities that occur throughout life.”
A Crack Scientific Team Claims They’ll Reverse Disease, Aging
Their incoming CEO is Hal Barron, currently President of R&D and Chief Scientific Officer at GlaxoSmithKline.
This world-respected scientist has said that “cells have the ability to rejuvenate, resetting their epigenetic clocks and erasing damage from a myriad of stressors.
“These insights, combined with major advances in a number of transformative technologies, inspired Altos to reimagine medical treatments where reversing disease for patients of any age is possible.”
Frances Arnold, Board member and Nobel laureate, believes that “now more than ever is the time to restructure our approach to health by understanding, slowing, and even reversing the processes that lead to illness and death.”
Chief scientist and founder Rick Klausner, M.D. added, “Altos seeks to decipher the pathways of cellular rejuvenation programming to create a completely new approach to medicine, one based on the emerging concepts of cellular health.”
According to their chief scientific advisor, Nobel laureate and world authority on stem cell science, Shinya Yamanaka, “The possibility of rejuvenation programming has only recently become a scientific reality and has the potential to enable us to approach human disease in an entirely new way.”
What exactly is rejuvenation programming?
The Elixir of Life
In 2012, Dr. Yamanaka received his shared Nobel Prize for identifying four proteins, now known as Yamanaka factors, that when added to a cell caused it to regress back to a pluripotent stem cell – an immature cell that can become any type of cell in the body.
This biological reprogramming has been tested in mice with progeria, a disease of accelerated aging, by Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte of the Salk Institute.
On the plus side, the hunched, motionless mice became active, energetic and full of life. On the negative side, they sprouted tumors and died days later. However, further development of the technique allowed progeria mice to live 30 percent longer without the growth of tumors.
Dr. Izpisúa Belmonte, who is also joining Altos Labs, said the technique “completely rejuvenates” and hailed cellular reprogramming as the “elixir of life.”
New Discoveries on the Horizon
The company has also recruited pioneering aging researcher Steve Horvath, who developed the Horvath aging clock, which measures a highly accurate molecular biomarker of aging.
After its development he said, “The big question is whether the underlying biological clock controls a process that leads to aging. If so, the clock will become an important biomarker for studying new therapeutic approaches to keeping us young.”
Some scientists argue that aging is unstoppable and trying to defeat it is a fool’s errand. Even if they’re right, exciting new discoveries to defeat the diseases of aging are bound to emerge from teaming up a Who’s Who of anti-aging scientists. Integrating their findings into one collaborative research effort will certainly bear fruit.
Of course, most of us would be satisfied with living in good physical and mental health until we slip peacefully away in our sleep at the age of 100. We’re not looking to live forever. Then again, most of us aren’t Silicon Valley billionaires.