Secret Harvard startup wants to make immortal dogs, and then people

The most powerful synthetic biologist in the world works in the new company, which plans to rejuvenate dogs using gene therapy. If it works, then people will go, and he will be one of the first volunteers. Secret startup called Rejuvenate Bio, and one of the founders was George Church from the Harvard school of medicine. He believes that dogs are not only man’s best friend, but also a great way to bring anti-aging treatment on the market.

The company that has conducted preliminary tests on beagles, claimed the animals “younger” by adding new instructions of DNA in their bodies. Her plan for the fight against aging is based on the amazing abilities of simple organisms such as worms and flies. Changing their genes, it is possible to increase the lifespan of two or more times. There is another study which showed that blood transfusions from young mice to old to restore some biomarkers to the young level.

“We’ve had a bunch of tests on mice and hold the dogs, and then move on to people,” said Church earlier this year. Other founders of the company, CEO Daniel Oliver and supervisor Noah Davidson of the Boston laboratory of the Church, refused to give an interview.

The company’s efforts to keep their activities secret from the press does not make it clear how many dogs have been “cured”. In the document provided by the veterinarian on the West coast, dated June last year, said that gene therapy Rejuvenate has been tested on four hounds in conjunction with tufts veterinary school in Boston. It is unclear whether there were wider testing.

But from publicly available documents, patent applications filed by Harvard, interviews with investors and breeders, as well as public comments of the founders, MIT Technology Review was a portrait of a startup that deals with life extension, starting with the American industry Pets at $ 72 billion.

“The dog is the market itself,” said Church at the event in Boston last week. “It’s not just a big body, close to the people. It is something that people pay, and the FDA approves much faster. We will conduct tests on dogs, we will do product and pay scale to test people.”

It is unknown what treatment the company does with dogs. But if it works, people will soon start talking about it out loud, adding to the wallet of the inventors.

The whole initiative uses the developing achievements of biotechnology, including the ability to edit the genes. For some scholars this change means that we will inevitably take control of aging, but nobody knows how soon it will happen. The extension of the duration of human life is “the biggest event that will happen in the 21st century,” says David Sinclair, the Harvard biologist, collaborating with the laboratory of the Church. “Based on this breakthrough Elon Musk will look like a pedestrian.”

Dog years

Rejuvenate Bio met with the investors and won a grant from the us special operations command, to examine the possibility of “improving” the military dogs, while the Harvard patent genetic methods age control species such as “cows, pigs, horses, cats, dogs, rats, etc.”.

The team was armed with the idea of treating Pets, because proof of the increasing life expectancy of people can take too much time. “Nobody wants to go to FDA and say that we extend life by 20 years. They will say: alrighty, be back in 20 years with data,” said Church at the meeting in Boston.

Instead, Rejuvenate will try to put an end to deadly heart diseases that are common to spaniels and Pinschers Darmanesti, gathering evidence that these concepts will work in humans.

Laboratory studies are already making hints that aging can be reversed. For example, scientists can “reprogram” any cell, so she took a young state characteristic of the embryos. But to cancel the program of aging in animals is not so easy, because we are made of trillions of specialized cells, active in the orchestra, and not from a single cell. “I don’t think we are approaching the ability to change the whole aging process in mammals,” says Pedro de Magalhaes, whose team at the University of Liverpool maintains a database of genes associated with longevity.

Starting in 2015, most of the Harvard laboratory of the Church, also known the attempts of the genetic resurrection of the woolly mammoth, decided to rejuvenate the mouse using gene therapy and new tools like CRISPR.

Gene therapy is to introduce the DNA’s instructions in the virus, which then transfer them to animal cells. In the laboratory of Harvard, this technology was used for the modulation of gene activity in mice — either increasing or reducing it — in an attempt to restore certain molecules to levels observed in younger, healthy animals.

The laboratory has started to develop more than 60 different methods of gene therapy, which are tested in older mice, separately and in combinations. The Harvard group plans to publish a scientific report about the method that prolongs the life of rodents by modifying two genes affecting four major diseases of old age: heart failure and kidney, obesity, and diabetes. In the opinion of the Church, the results are “quite stunning”.

What age do you need?

In the January presentation of the project at Harvard, Davidson showed the image of white-bearded Church what it is today, then another as he was decades ago (with brown hair). But the second picture was signed 2117 year — 100 years into the future.

This reflects the desire of the Church to reverse aging in reverse. He says he would have signed if the treatment will be safe, or even would become a lab rat in the study. The ultimate goal of the Church is “the body and the mind 22-year-old with the experience of 130 years”.

Such ideas resonate in Silicon valley. Billionaires like Peter Thiel are looking for a way to defeat aging, both personally and in business, which will change the society. Earlier this year, for example, Davidson told the Fund till that time, scientists already can extend lifespan of simple organisms, it works with people. One day, he said, “we will be able to control the biological clock and keep all ages what you will.”

Old friend better new two

The new company got in touch with breeders of dogs, experts in ethics and veterinarians, in order to discuss its proposal to restore youth and increase the “maximum lifespan”. So the documents. Strategy is to enter the pet market. Americans lay out $ 20 billion a year on veterinary services. Then go to the people.

Since last year, the Rejuvenate Bio started to contact the owners of miniature dogs called the Spaniel Cavalier King Charles, offering to carry out therapy for the treatment of heart failure, mitral valve disease, which kills half of these babies under the age of 10 years.

Rejuvenate not disclose to the public that includes its nobacteria, but could reflect one kind of treatment that Davidson gave the mice to stop the damage to the heart. This gene therapy to block the protein Tgf-beta, known as the “master switch” process where heart valves scar, thicken and deform. The same process affects dogs.

This spring, Davidson and Oliver went to Chicago to the international exhibition of dogs where he arranged for the auction and collected several thousand dollars for the test. Breeders Spaniel, Patty kanan, said that the study “has important value for the American Spaniel club Cavalier King Charles”, whose President she is.

In the Bulletin distributed to the owners of spaniels in the past year, Rejuvenate said that this is not a proven treatment will make Pets “more healthy, happy and young.” But not all dog owners are impressed.

Rod Russell, editor of the web site, called the proposal “pure hype”. He said there was “absolutely no evidence” method to make the dog younger and even for Pets experimental drugs cannot be called working prior to the tests. “Who would be naive enough to invest in the promise that the treatment will make the Cavaliers younger? Or will there be such?”.

And here’s another question: even if the treatment will stop the development of heart disease, whether it’s “getting old backwards” or just prevent disease? In the opinion of the Church, the answer depends on whether the body of an old dog to be healed as the body is young. In any case, dog owners will still be the main thing, the dog jumped and turned tail, he says.

Dog ethics

No need to wait for the beginning of the test method to cancel the aging on the people, to understand what ethical issues begin to emerge. Last September, the Rejuvenate Bio team travelled to new haven, to discuss with philosophers and ethics, collected Lisa Moses, a veterinarian at the Harvard school of medicine.

For example, if the dog’s life will be extended, more animals will outlive their owners and end up in shelters or under euthanasia. “I’m concerned about unintended effects,” says Moses. “I want to make sure that you think about it, before things get much further”.

Pets, which Rejuvenate wants to try gene therapy, are less special ethical protections than those that are used in research institutions. “Pets fall into a legal grey area when it comes to experiments on them,” she says. The power of life and death is in the hands of the owner; people can choose to save an animal from suffering or to take extraordinary medical steps to save them. It’s not always beneficial to patients.”

Methods of extending life, based on genetic modifications can also lead to unexpected side effects, says Matt Kaeberlein, a scientist at the University of Washington.

“The idea that we can genetically develop laboratory animals with increased life expectancy, was approved. But there are concerns about the exit from the lab,” says Koberlein. “We need to sacrifice something”. A gene variation that affects the heart, can have other effects for dogs, perhaps making them less healthy than it was originally. “And when you make genetic modifications, there are many options that they will work not as it should be,” he adds. “What will you do with the dogs, which can not cure?”.

Koberlein, says that he would like to see more hard evidence of rejuvenation in mice, before anyone will try to do it on the dog. Until, in his opinion, stories about the anti-aging medicine you can hold.

“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 this is what was promised”.

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