Anti-Aging & Wellness Corner

Some Recent Developments In the Science of Longevity

Researchers and investors attempt to unlock the secrets to a longer life.

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By: Navin Geria

Some Recent Developments In the Science of Longevity

Longevity technology has reached a point where extending animal lifespan by 30% is routine, according to Dr. David Sinclair, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and a world-renowned authority on longevity. Dozens of companies are testing aging-reversal technologies in human clinical trials, and positive results could extend lifespan by decades.

Experts now believe that exciting new innovations in longevity space may one day redefine the way we age and help us look better as we do it. A growing number of executives and researchers insist  that slowing the aging process is not just possible but inevitable, and there has been a burst of investments in this field of study.

Venture capitalists, billionaires and technologists have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into this research with the goal of creating consumer therapies. Biomedical science has made huge strides during the past few decades to understand how aging happens in the human body. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, Cleveland Clinic, Center for Functional Medicine, aging is a disease that can be treated. According to Dr. Jay Olshansky, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois, Chicago, aging is the accumulation of random damage to the building blocks of life, especially to DNA, certain proteins, carbohydrates and lipids that begin early in life and eventually exceed the body’s self-repair capabilities.1

People are living longer, staying healthier and accomplishing things late in life that once seemed possible only at younger ages. In 1900, life expectancy in the US was about 47 years and now it is about 78. France’s Jeanne Calment is the only person credited with living to 120 and beyond. She died in 1997, at 122. 

Dr. Ernst von Schwarz is a triple board-certified internist, cardiologist and heart transplant cardiologist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the Heart Institute of the Southern California Hospital. He supports the idea that a healthy 120 years can be our allotted lifespan.

He is the author of the book, Secrets of Immortality, and a pioneer in stem cell research. von Schwartz says that stem cells, not just embryonic stem cells, have more significant uses than just superficial applications.2

According to Longevity Technology, a venture capital investment firm, sales from longevity clinics more than doubled between 2021 and 2022, from $27 million to $57 million globally. According to a market research firm, Allied Market Research, longevity is expected to be a $44 billion market by 2030. Extending lifespan is rooted deep in the human psyche. The quest is backed by increasingly rigorous science spurred on by research labs and biotech companies.

This column briefly reviews current research on longevity. The scientific race to unlock the secrets to longevity started with the 1993 discovery that altering one gene in a worm, C. elegans, doubled its lifespan. Researchers soon began hunting for genes that control healthy aging and longevity in humans. But the more scientists learn, the more complex the picture becomes. In 2006, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, a research scientist, figured out how to reprogram adult cells and return them to an embryonic-like state. This discovery revolutionized cell biology and the search for ways to treat human diseases began. This technique, called cellular reprogramming or epigenetic reprogramming, reverses aging and eradicates the illnesses associated with it. According to Dr. David Sinclair, a biologist, this transformative gene-editing technology is certainly the biggest thing since CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) in terms of the amount of money and people getting into it.3 Sinclair makes no secret of his mission to thwart aging. He founded and invested in more than a dozen companies to commercialize longevity technologies and molecules. He takes metformin and sprinkles resveratrol on his breakfast.

Recapturing Lost Vision

Sinclair closely monitors his biological age through “Inside Tracker” a company he advises. This company analyses 43 biomarkers. Sinclair modified Yamanaka’s formula, eliminating one transcription factor that has been implicated in cancer. He then used partial reprogramming in mice to regrow crushed optic nerves. He tried it in mice with a glaucoma-like condition and their vision returned. Sinclair published the results in Nature in 2020. He continues to study the mice and the benefits appear long lasting. Sinclair targeted the optic nerve because it is one of the first places affected by aging. Shortly after birth, we lose the ability to regenerate cells there. Sinclair hypothesizes, if turning back cellular age can recapture lost vision, then why not recapture the ability to walk or memory?

Alternative Therapies

Altos Labs, owned by Jeff Bezos, is a biotech startup focused on cellular rejuvenation programming to restore cell health and resilience with the goal of reversing disease to transform medicine. This $3 billion reprogramming venture was launched by Bezos and a group of like-minded tech entrepreneurs.

Dr. Nir Barzilai has spent years working toward a clinical trial to test the effects of metformin on a host of diseases related to age. Metformin is currently used to control sugar levels in type 2 diabetic patients. Metformin has been shown to extend the lifespan of mice and may produce an unexpected benefit in humans, like lowering the risk of cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. The study is set to begin later this year and will take up to six years and test the efficacy of metformin on age-related ailments in more than 3,000 people who are already using it to help treat type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Peter Attia, a longevity physician, author and podcast host, is a sensation among the health obsessed; his social media following rivals some Hollywood stars! His book, “Outlive: The Science & Art of Longevity,” has sold more than a million copies since its debut. His podcast, The Drive, regularly ranks among the top five in the health and fitness category on Apple and Spotify. He promotes some practices and treatments outside of mainstream medicine. His popularity reflects Americans’ growing interest in living healthier for longer and their dissatisfaction with traditional medicine.

Attia takes and prescribes rapamycin. Rapamycin is widely prescribed to prevent organ rejection after a transplant. But it also increases the life expectancy of middle-aged mice. It can also suppress the immune system. Attia advocates extensive blood tests, preventive full-body scans and continuous glucose monitoring even in patients without diabetes. But some medical professionals say he goes too far. How far? Attia recently introduced a program called “Early,” which charges users roughly $2,500 to help them build a personalized longevity plan.4

Scientists detail “hallmarks” of aging, the inter-connected ways that biology goes awry over time. According to Gregory Fahy PhD, co-founder and chief scientific officer, Intervene Immune, Torrance, CA, immunological aging could be reversed by treating the thymus, a small gland in the chest that stimulates disease-fighting T-cells. But Fahy’s 2019 study, published in the journal Aging Cell, was too small to prove anything, and it was not placebo controlled.

Senolytic Strategies

Senolytics involves the study of small molecules to determine if they can selectively induce death of senescent cells and improve health in humans. In one study, senolytics helped geriatric mice remain spry by killing damaging cells that accumulate with age. This molecular class appears poised to become the first antiaging therapy to make it through the regulatory gauntlet. Unfortunately, an early clinical study of an osteoarthritis treatment, found that it did not reduce swelling or joint pain any better than placebo.

Silicon Valley investor Joon Yun offered $1 million to whomever can “hack the code” of aging. Larry Ellison, the co-founder of Oracle, has given more than $330 million to research aging and age-related diseases.

Venture Capitalist Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and founder of the Thiel Fellowship, spent millions of dollars funding startups devoted to “reverse-engineer death.” He also funded Breakthrough Labs, which is trying to extend the useful life of various body parts. Thiel has shown an interest in receiving blood transfusions from younger “hosts” to reset age-related symptoms in the circulatory system, a process akin to parabiosis. He has donated over $7 million to the Methuselah Foundation, a non-profit focused on life-extension therapies.

Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, CA, used partial reprogramming to extend the lives of prematurely aged mice and to accelerate healing in normally aged old mice with muscle injuries. 

Clock Foundation is a spinoff of UCLA. Here, Dr. Steve Horvath is studying the science of aging and looking for chemical solutions to reverse it. The team at UCLA developed the “Grim Age” clock that predicts when we are going to die based on DNA changes. If we really want to be younger, we must look at how DNA breaks down the chemicals and compounds that trigger aging, according to the foundation.

Gero and Foxo Biotech companies are planning to embark on joint initiatives on artificial intelligence and epigenetic data to gain perspectives of human health trajectories.5

At the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, scientists work to develop therapies to slow aging. According to CEO Dr. Eric Verdin, the concept of aging changed when researchers realized there is a subset of genes that can regulate lifespan. If you identify genes and pathways that control aging, this means that specific proteins can regulate it and delay aging.

Sergey Young and Roman Abramovich established the $100 million Longevity Vision Fund to back research on aging. Bezos invested in Unit Biotechnology, which is targeting cellular mechanisms at the root of age-related diseases. Meanwhile, Michael Milken is funding the development of drugs and other medical treatments for the chronic diseases associated with aging.

Dave Asprey, founder of Bulletproof 360, is determined to live to 180. Bulletproof blends coffee and fats, which together, are said to impart sustained energy and support cognitive function. Asprey recently raised $19 million to support Bulletproof’s rapid growth. It’s all just a small part of the booming wellness industry which has become a roughly $3.7 trillion market.

Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, has allocated a billion dollars a year to investigate how to extend the human lifespan through the Hevolution Foundation. This non-profit organization provides grants and early-stage investments to incentivize independent research and entrepreneurship in the emerging field of health-span science. The American Federation of Aging Research (AFAR), a US nonprofit, has received $7.76 million in funding from Hevolution. There are 18 research projects in aging biology or geoscience underway at AFAR.6

Future Endeavors

The term, “health span” refers to the amount of time the people spend healthy and active with a good quality of life. Data suggest science might extend not only lifespan, but health span, too. The New England Centenarian Study has tracked super-agers for nearly 40 years.

According to Thomas Pearls, founder and director of the study, once people pass the age of 90, genes have greater influence on survival, and their impact starts to dominate around age 103. But no single gene rules. There are many different biological mechanisms involved in aging, and all these mechanisms are governed by different genes. With few exceptions, people who live and often thrive, past 100 have as many risky forms of genes as the general population. However, they also possess more gene variants that insulate them against common ailments, including Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer. Each beneficial form of a gene confers only a little protection. But having many good variants appear to counter the effects of troublesome ones.

Futurist Raymond Kurzweil, a National Medal of Technology recipient and National Inventors Hall of Fame inductee, is the author of Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. In his book, Kurzweil predicts that by 2030 biomedical technology will have advanced to the point where it will be possible to halt the body’s aging process. Microscopic robots, the size of red blood cells, will patrol our circulatory system and fix damaged cells and tissues to fend off aging and illness.7  


References:
  1. D. Brooks, NY Times, 6/4/21
  2. J. Maurice, “you can live & work to 120”- N Y post 9/24/23
  3. The Science of Longevity F. Smith, National Geographic
  4. Longevity Physician, A. Janin, Sept.13’23, Wall St. Journal
  5. Bloomberg News, Aug. 7, ’23
  6. Saudis back treatments for aging. S. Kalin, Wall St. Jr. 1st Sept. ’23
  7. 100 year Secret, A. Diaz. N Y Post 4/5/23

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Navin Geria
Chief Scientific Officer
Ayurderm Technologies, LLC
[email protected]
 
Navin Geria, former Pfizer Research Fellow is a cosmetic and pharmaceutical product development chemist and the chief scientific officer of AyurDerm Technologies LLC, which provides Ayurvedic, natural and cosmeceutical custom formulation development and consulting services to the spa-wellness-dermatology industries. He has launched dozens of cosmeceutical and ayurvedic anti-aging products. Geria has more than 30 years of experience in the personal care industry and was previously with Clairol, Warner-Lambert, Schick-Energizer, Bristol-Myers and Spa Dermaceuticals. He has nearly 20 US patents and has been published extensively. Geria edited the Handbook of Skin-Aging Theories for Cosmetic Formulation Development focus book published in April 2016 by Harry’s Cosmeticology. He is a speaker, moderator and chairman at cosmetic industry events. 

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