Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Oligarchs Strive for Longer Lives

  If the rich can live longer, the rich can get richer longer, compounding the already imbalanced spectrum of money, power, and control, 

Senolytics is a class of treatments that targets aged cells—which biologists call senescent cells—that accumulate in our bodies as we age. These cells seem to drive the ageing process—from causing cancers to neurodegeneration—and, conversely, removing them seems to slow it down, and perhaps even reverse it.

 Experiments in which mice were given a senolytic cocktail of dasatinib (a cancer drug) and quercetin (a molecule found in fruit and veg), not only did they live longer, but they were at lower risk of diseases including cancer, were less frail (they could run further and faster on the tiny mouse-sized treadmills used in the experiments) than their littermates not given the drugs.

Unity Biotechnology, founded by the Mayo Clinic scientists behind that mouse experiment and with investors including Jeff Bezos, which is trialing a range of senolytic drugs against diseases like macular degeneration (a cause of blindness) and lung fibrosis. There are many approaches under investigation, including small proteins that target senescent cells, vaccines to encourage the immune system to clear them out, and even gene therapy by a company called Oisín Biotechnologies, named after an Irish mythological character who travels to Tir na nÓg, the land of eternal youth.

 Other human trials include Proclara Biosciences’ protein GAIM, which clears up sticky “amyloid” proteins, or Verve Therapeutics’ gene therapy to reduce cholesterol by modifying a gene called PCSK9. 

“There are hundreds of millions of dollars being raised by investors to invest in reprogramming, specifically aimed at rejuvenating parts or all of the human body,” says David Sinclair, a researcher at Harvard University.

Anti-aging company Altos Labs is pursuing biological reprogramming technology, a way to rejuvenate cells in the lab that some scientists think could be extended to revitalize entire animal bodies, ultimately prolonging human life. The new company, incorporated in the US and in the UK earlier this year, will establish several institutes in places including the Bay Area, San Diego, Cambridge, UK and Japan, and is recruiting a large cadre of university scientists with lavish salaries and the promise that they can pursue unfettered blue-sky research on how cells age and how to reverse that process. Investors include Jeff Bezos. Yuri Milner, a Russian-born billionaire, and his wife Julia have invested in Altos through a foundation. 

Among the scientists said to be joining Altos are Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, a Spanish biologist at the Salk Institute, in La Jolla, California, who has won notoriety for research mixing human and monkey embryos and who has predicted that human lifespans could be increased by 50 years. Also joining is Steve Horvath, a UCLA professor and developer of a “biological clock” that can accurately measure human aging. Shinya Yamanaka, who shared a 2012 Nobel Prize for the discovery of reprogramming, will be an unpaid senior scientist and will chair the company’s scientific advisory board. Yamanaka’s breakthrough discovery was that with the addition of just four proteins, now known as Yamanaka factors, cells can be instructed to revert to a primitive state with the properties of embryonic stem cells. By 2016, Izpisúa Belmonte’s lab had applied these factors to entire living mice, achieving signs of age reversal and leading him to term reprogramming a potential “elixir of life.” Other hires made by Altos include Peter Walter, whose laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco, is behind a molecule that shows remarkable effects on memory. Altos is luring university professors by offering sports-star salaries of $1 million a year or more, plus equity, as well as freedom from the hassle of applying for grants. One researcher who confirmed accepting a job offer from Altos, Manuel Serrano of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine, in Barcelona, Spain, said the company would pay him five to 10 times what he earns now.

Another is Calico Labs, a longevity company announced in 2013 by Google co-founder, Larry Page. Calico also hired elite scientific figures and gave them generous budgets.

The Institute for Aging Research at New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine claims we’ve moved beyond hope in turning anti-aging into reality, and we now sit “at the point between having promise and realizing it.”

The first true anti-ageing medicine will very likely target a specific age-related disease driven by a particular hallmark, rather than ageing writ large. But the success of a drug targeting an aspect of ageing in clinical trials will allow us to consider this loftier goal in the not-too-distant future.

“The longer you’re around, the more your wealth compounds, and the wealthier you are, the more political influence you have,” Christopher Wareham, a bioethicist at Utrecht University, tells FT. The science of longevity will only widen existing gaps, he says.

 If mega-billionaires have all the insights in not only adopting anti-aging science, but then licensing that science out to the masses, not only do the rich get richer, but the rich get richer for ... forever.

The Cure for Death Means Billionaires Will Live Forever—and Be Rich Forever (msn.com)

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