The secret Harvard startup wants to make dogs immortal, and then people

<pre>The secret Harvard startup wants to make dogs immortal, and then people

The most influential synthetic biologist in the world works in a new company that plans to rejuvenate dogs using gene therapy. If it turns out, people will go further, and he himself will become one of the first volunteers. The secret startup is called Rejuvenate Bio, and George Church of the Harvard School of Medicine became one of the founders. He believes that dogs are not only the best friends of man, but also an excellent way to bring anti-aging treatment to the market.

The company that conducted the preliminary tests for the hounds, claims to have made the animals “younger” by adding new DNA instructions to their bodies. Her plan to combat aging is based on the amazing abilities of simple organisms, such as worms and flies. Changing their genes, you can increase the lifespan by two or more times. There is another study that showed that the transfusion of blood from young mice to the old can restore some biomarkers to a young level.

“We have already had a lot of tests in mice and we spend on dogs, and then we go to people,” Church said in beginning of this year. Other founders of the company, CEO Daniel Oliver and supervisor Noah Davidson from the Church's Boston laboratory, refused to give interviews.

The company's efforts to keep its activities secret from the press do not make it clear how many dogs have been “cured”. A paper from the West Coast veterinarian, dated June last year, states that Rejuvenate gene therapy was tested on four beagles in conjunction with the Tufts Veterinary School in Boston. It is unclear whether wider trials are being carried out.

But from the publicly available documents, the patent application filed by Harvard, interviews with investors and dog breeders, and the public comments of the founders, MIT Technology Review compiled a startup portrait that extends life from the American industry pets at 72 billion dollars.

“Dogs are the market itself,” Church said at an event in Boston last week. “It's not just a big organism, close to people. This is something for which people pay, and the FDA approves much faster. We will conduct tests on dogs, we will make a product, and he will pay for scaling before testing on humans. “

It is not yet known what treatment the company makes with dogs. But if it works, people will very soon talk about it aloud, replenishing the inventors' wallet.

The whole initiative uses the developing achievements of biotechnology, including the ability to edit genes. For some scientists, this progress means that we will inevitably take control of aging, but no one knows how soon this will happen. The extension of human life is “the biggest event that will happen in the 21st century,” says David Sinclair, a Harvard biologist who works with the Church Church. “Against the backdrop of this breakthrough, Ilon Mask will look like a pedestrian.”

Dog Years

Rejuvenate Bio met with investors and won a grant from the US Special Operations Command to explore the possibility of “improving” war dogs, while Harvard patents genetic methods of age control in such species as “cows, pigs, horses, cats, dogs, rats, etc.”

The team armed with the idea of ​​treating pets, because the proof of the possibility of increasing the longevity of people can take too much com a lot of time. “No one wants to go to the FDA and say that we extend our lives for 20 years. They will say: wonders, will return in 20 years with the data, “Church said at a meeting in Boston.

Instead, Rejuvenate will try to put an end to the deadly heart disease common to spaniels and Doberman pinschers, gathering evidence that these concepts will work well in humans.

Laboratory studies are already making hints that aging can be canceled. For example, scientists can “reprogram” any cell so that it takes on a young state that is characteristic of embryos. But to cancel the program of aging in animals is not so simple, because we are made of trillions of specialized cells operating in the orchestra, and not from one cell. “I do not think we are approaching the opportunity to generally change the aging process in mammals,” says Pedro de Magalhanes, whose team at the University of Liverpool maintains a database of genes associated with longevity.

Starting in 2015, the large Harvard laboratory of Church, also known as attempts at genetic resurrection of a woolly mammoth, decided to rejuvenate the mouse using gene therapy and new instruments such as CRISPR.

Gene therapy is to introduce DNA instructions into a virus that will then transfer them Lethke animal. In the Harvard Laboratory, this technology was used to modulate gene activity in old mice – either increasing or decreasing it – in an attempt to return certain molecules to levels observed in younger, healthy animals.

The Laboratory began developing more than 60 different gene therapy methods , which are tested on old mice, individually and in combinations. The Harvard group plans to publish a scientific report on a method that prolongs the life of rodents, modifying two genes that affect four major diseases of old age: heart and kidney failure, obesity and diabetes. According to Church, the results are “very stunning.”

What age do you need?

In the January presentation of the project at Harvard, Davidson showed an image of the white-bearded Church as it is now, then another one, as it was dozens of years ago (with chestnut trees hair). But the second picture was signed in 2117 – 100 years into the future.

This photo reflects Church's desire to reverse aging. He says he would sign if the treatment is safe, or even become a laboratory rat in the study. The ultimate goal, according to Church, is “the body and mind of a 22-year-old with 130 years of experience.”

Similar ideas resonate in the Silicon Valley. Billionaires like Peter Thiel are looking for a way to defeat aging, both personally and in the form of a business that will change society. Earlier this year, for example, Davidson told the Thiel Foundation that since scientists can already increase the life span of simple organisms, it will work with people. Once, he said, “we can control the biological clock and preserve whatever age you want.”

An old friend is better than the new two

The new company contacted dog breeders, ethics specialists and veterinarians to discuss her proposal for restoration youth and an increase in the “maximum life expectancy”. It follows from the documents. The strategy is to enter the pet market. Americans spend 20 billion dollars a year on the services of veterinarians. Then move on to people.

Beginning last year, Rejuvenate Bio began contacting owners of miniature dogs called the spaniel Cavalier King Charles, offering a therapy for the treatment of heart failure, a mitral valve disease that kills half of these crumbs before the age of 10 years.

Rejuvenate does not disclose publicly what includes her dog therapy, but may reflect one type of treatment that Davidson gave to mice to stop heart damage. This is a gene therapy for blocking the Tgf-beta protein, known as the “main switch” of the process, in which the heart valves are scarred, thickened and deformed. The same process affects dogs.

This spring, Davidson and Oliver went to Chicago for an international dog show, where they staged an auction and collected several thousand dollars for testing. The spaniel divider Patty Canan says the study “is important for the American Spaniel Club Cavalier King Charles,” of which she is the president.

In a bulletin distributed to spaniel owners last year, Rejuvenate reported that this untested treatment would make pets “more healthy, happy and young.” But not all dog owners were impressed.

Rod Russell, editor of the website, called the proposal “pure hype.” He says that there is “absolutely no evidence” of a way to make dogs younger and that even for pets, experimental drugs can not be called workers until testing. “Who will be naive enough to invest money in the promise that treatment will make cavaliers younger? Or will there be such? “

And here's another question: if even treatment stops the development of heart disease, will it be” reversing old age “or simply preventing the disease? According to Church, the answer depends on whether the organism of the old dog can be healed as a young organism. In any case, the owners of dogs will not care: the main thing is for the dog to jump and twist the tail, he says.

Dog ethics

It is not necessary to wait for the testing of the method of reversing aging in humans to understand what ethical issues are beginning to emerge. Last September, the Rejuvenate Bio team traveled to New Haven to discuss them with the philosophers and ethics gathered by Lisa Moses, a vet at the Harvard School of Medicine.

For example, if the dog's life can be extended, more animals will survive their owners and eventually to be provided in shelters or under euthanasia. “I'm worried about the unplanned consequences,” says Moses. “I want to make sure that they think about it before everything goes further.”

Pets that Rejuvenate wants to test for gene therapy have fewer special ethical protections than those used in research institutions. “Pets fall into the legal gray zone when it comes to experimenting with them,” she says. The power of life and death is in the hands of the owner; people can choose, save the animal from suffering, or take emergency medical steps to save them. This is not always beneficial to patients. “

Life extension methods based on genetic modifications can also lead to unexpected side effects, says Matt Kaberlein, scientist at Washington University.

” The idea that we can genetically develop laboratory animals with increased life expectancy, was approved. But there are concerns about leaving them from the laboratory, “says Kaberlein. “We need to sacrifice something.” Changing a gene that damages the heart can have other consequences for dogs, perhaps making them less healthy than they were originally. “And when you make genetic modifications, there are many options that they will not work as they should,” he adds. “What will you do with dogs that can not be cured?”

Kaberlein says he would like to see more serious evidence of rejuvenation in mice before anyone tries to do it on a dog. Until then, in his opinion, stories about anti-aging medicine can be held back.

“They can say anything, but nothing has been done,” he says. “I think it's great for attracting people's attention. But I'm not sure that what has been promised will be given. “

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