Update bundle #4

Gone are—for now—the golden days when I would publish a new post each week. So, for as long as my schedule is going to be this busy, I’ll have to be content with update bundles. I thought I’d let you know about a few news items and interesting things going on in anti-ageing community.

News from LEAF

On June 30 LEAF will host their first Journal Club event, with dr Oliver Medvedik. The topic will be the implications of epigenetic alterations on aging and as a primary aging process.

The recurring crowdfunding campaign to support LEAF has reached $1110, thus surpassing the first goal of $1000. The next one is $2000, and it’d be great if you could help us reach it, and advertise the campaign so that others may help too.

Another way you can help is by becoming a volunteer—there’s never a shortage of stuff to do in the world of anti-ageing research advocacy, and your talents may be precious. You can also join the community on discord to find out what’s going on and how you can help.

Keep an eye on LEAF, because new campaigns are to be expected fairly soon.

The state of the art

Rejuvenaction does a lot of rejuvenation advocacy, but doesn’t talk much about rejuvenation science. That is on my to-do list and is going to change; for the time being, here’s a brief update on a few research projects, categorised for simplicity the SENS way. None of these is exactly news, but they may give you an idea of where we are in terms of progress, in case you have been out of the loop.

LysoSENS

Clearing up the indigestible junk that accumulates in our lysosomes as we age is crucial in the fight against age-related diseases. The SENS approach to the problem of lysosomal dysfunction consists in upgrading our lysosomes with genes that allow them to produce enzymes that break down the previously unbreakable. A first example of this type of therapy moving towards the clinic is that of LysoCLEAR, an enzyme product in the pre-clinical trial stage specifically tailored to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and its early onset version, juvenile macular degeneration. AMD is one of the leading causes of blindness among the elderly; if successful, LysoCLEAR would not only help old and young alike get back their sight, but it could also pave the way to similar treatments for lysosomal dysfunction in different tissues of the body. Indeed, while LysoCLEAR is targeted to treat the macula, its creator Kelsey Moody is optimistic that the method behind LysoCLEAR can be adapted to target different tissues.

This is not exactly full-scale LysoSENS yet—because we’re not talking of inserting new genes anywhere but rather of a treatment based on enzyme replacement therapy—but it’s an excellent step forward and it definitely is a maintenance-based approach which, at the end of the day, clears out unwanted junk. I suppose it can be seen as a ‘manual’ version of LysoSENS, since the necessary enzymes to clear up the macula aren’t produced directly by the body but are delivered by the drug itself.

Another project, a joint effort by SENS Research Foundation and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, may help us get to the ‘automatic’ version of LysoSENS. The goal of the project is testing out an improvement on somatic gene therapy that uses CRISPR to control where specific genes are added to the genome. Further coverage can be found on FA! —which I always recommend as your primary source for anti-ageing science, together with LEAF. (See Jim’s comment below for a clarification.)

ApoptoSENS

Another cause of pathology in old age is the accumulation of senescent cells—cells that should die, but do not have the decency to do so. These felons have stopped replicating entirely, but don’t die. Instead, they stick around and secrete harmful chemicals. Their existence is a bit of a trade-off: They’re useful in small amounts (they play a role in wound healing and help preventing cancer), but once we hit old age they’ve built up to intolerable amounts, and far from being a solution, they become a problem. That’s why they’re one of the primary targets of ApoptoSENS.

In the past few years, senolytics—drugs capable of targeting and destroying senescent cells—have been often in the spotlight among the anti-ageing research community. Several biotech companies, such as Oisin, Unity, and CellAge, are working on different types of senolytics to get rid of excess senescent cells. The Life Extension Advocacy Foundation ran a rather successful crowdfunding campaign for CellAge last year, and Unity’s senolytics are supposed to enter clinical trials in 2018. Additionally, SENS Research Foundation and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging have recently joined forces on a research project focussed on the clearance of senescent cells in the immune system, led by renowned expert Professor Judy Campisi.

Methuselah Foundation’s new fund

Earlier this year (I told you I’m a slow poster) Methuselah Foundation launched the Methuselah Fund, aimed at providing financial help for promising scientific teams that would like to launch their own company focussed on rejuvenation biotechs. Professional investors’ interest is definitely welcome, and you can get in touch with sergio@methuselahfund.com if you’re interested; however, participants to the Methuselah 300 can complete their pledge by investing in the Methuselah Fund as well.

Upcoming MMTP Longevity Panel

MMTP will host a panel with dr. Alexandra Stolzing, dr. Aubrey de Grey, and other guests in early June—the exact date is to be confirmed. The panel will be livestreamed on Facebook and is offered as one of the rewards for donating to MMTP’s fundraiser on Lifespan.io in 2016. If you have any question to for Alexandra or Aubrey, or the other guests, be sure to submit it to info@majormouse.org.

Advancing Conversations with Aubrey de Grey

If you want an inexpensive, lightweight book that discusses the key points of the rejuvenation cause, either for your own reading or to recommend to others who aren’t willing to go through Ending Aging, I suggest you take a look to Douglas Lain’s Advancing Conversations: Aubrey de Grey—Advocate for an Indefinite Human Lifespan. It’s short, not sciencey and thus simple to read, and it answers quite a few questions that a newbie to the cause may have.

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LEAF’s new website is up and running

I’m happy to announce that the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation, or LEAF, has launched their new website. Perhaps I should say ‘our new website’, as I have the privilege of being part of the team. Among the many resources available on the website, there’s a rich FAQ section, explaining the biology of ageing, the technologies we can use to defeat age-related diseases, and answers to objections to and concerns about rejuvenation. Check it out, and while you’re at it, have a look at our latest crowdfunding campaign for CellAge, currently 7% funded.

Crowdfunding against senescent cells on Lifespan.io

Today, Lifespan.io has launched a new crowdfunding campaign: CellAge: Targeting Senescent Cells With Synthetic Biology. As you may know, senescent cells are a major driver of a number of age-related diseases, and therefore a prime target for any respectable rejuvenation biotech platform. CellAge, a biotech company based in Edinburgh, aims to design synthetic promoters for safe and precise targeting of senescent cells, with the goal of developing senolytic gene therapies to remove them. Please, consider helping them with a donation—big or small, every dollar counts—and by spreading the word!

Thoughts and updates on recent crowdfunding campaigns

Times really are changing.

Five years ago, when I discovered there were people trying to defeat ageing, I had a distinct feeling it would be a really slow process. I don’t mean just in terms of getting the science done, but also of getting people on board, i.e. getting through people’s skull the simple fact that biological ageing is as bad for you as is any disease. (It’s actually worse, since ageing comes with a nice bundle of all sorts of diseases.) However, things are moving faster than I expected.

The number of companies and researchers joining the fight is increasing, and unlike ten years ago, saying you work on delaying or even eliminating ageing doesn’t automatically make you an object of ridicule and earn you isolation from the rest of the scientific community. In fact, in the scientific community, the idea that ageing can and will be defeated is slowly becoming mainstream.

The amount of online articles about the quest to put an end to ageing is also multiplying, and the tone of these articles is much different from what it used to be. A few years ago, the idea of ending ageing was seen as a quixotic, groundless fantasy, the science behind it was dismissed and belittled, and the scientists working on it were seen as nothing more than delusional, arrogant eccentrics. Today, articles tell a completely different story, and rather than making fun of anti-ageing science, they worry about the potential consequences of defeating ageing. Critics are starting to realise that, far from being a delusion, the defeat of ageing is just a matter of when, not if.

That’s not all. The opinion of the general public seems to be changing as well. To see how this is true, it’s enough to have a look at the result of the crowdfunding campaigns on Lifespan.io. The MitoSENS campaign was a huge success and reached 154% of the goal. The MMTP campaign, which is still running for a few more days, is currently more than 100% percent funded, and the original goal of 45.000$ has been extended to 60.000$. The OncoSENS campaign was launched on June 14, 2016, and as of today (June 19, 2016, i.e. five days later), it is already funded to 9%. (On a less bright note, the DRACO IndieGoGo campaign isn’t doing very well—only 14 days are left, and only a mere 28% of the goal has been reached.)

I think part of this success is due to how people change their minds about things. More often than not, people don’t actively oppose new ideas in themselves. Simply put, if there isn’t enough buzz around a new idea, people just ignore it; if you don’t hear about it often enough, you probably won’t consider it worth your time. More importantly, if most people disapprove of a new idea, then you’re likely to feel subconsciously pressured to disapprove of it too, regardless of its actual merit. This happens for three reasons.

The first is that the illusion of being right, coming from the logical fallacy ‘if most people think it’s wrong, then it must be’, is comforting. The second is that it always feels safer to belong to a majority group. The third and final reason is that being one of the many fuckwits who were wrong feels much better than being one of the few fuckwits who were wrong. In other words, if a lot of people think ageing can’t be defeated and turn out to be wrong about it, they can blame it on the issue itself; if so many people were wrong about it, it must have been particularly hard to grasp or deceptive. However, if just a handful of people thinks ageing can be defeated and they turn out to be mistaken, they’ll come across as a bunch of twits who couldn’t realise the obvious.

Because of the reasons outlined above, when an idea is still new and fairly controversial, people may feel that the safest option to avoid ridicule is to side with the majority and dismiss the new idea without further consideration. The new idea is not okay to talk about because almost nobody does, and of those who do, most despise it and very few praise it.

However, if one day the new idea is all over the Internet, more and more people are talking about it, and there’s a growing number of supporters, other people will start thinking that, perhaps, talking about the new idea is okay after all. It’s okay to read about it and make your own opinion rather than accepting that of the majority. Inevitably, the number of supporters will grow even more, making it easier for new people to join in. And as the number of people joining the cause grows, the cause itself gets a lot more exposure, giving rise to a virtuous circle that may eventually result in the once-despised idea being endorsed by most.

This is why I hope you won’t just read this post, nod approvingly, and move on to reading something else. I hope you’ll share it, share Lifespan.io’s crowdfunding campaigns, talk about healthy life extension to your friends and family, and help generating momentum around rejuvenation biotechnologies in any way you can. Only through advocacy can we reach the critical mass we need to turn the dream of rejuvenation into a reality.

I don’t like this one tiny bit.

I’m not a biologist, you probably know that. I’m thinking about getting a degree in biology, but presently I have no competence to say what makes sense and what does not, biologically speaking. All I say on this website about what may or may not cure ageing is the word of experts of the field, which I merely repeat in a different fashion.

However, having studied natural sciences and having been around on the planet for long enough, I’ve learned to be skeptical about solutions that seem too easy. Especially when the silver bullet seems to have been discovered much too suddenly.

As you probably remember, BioViva has recently experimented a type of gene therapy against ageing on its own CEO Liz Parrish. The aim of the treatment was to lengthen her telomeres, and according to preliminary data, it worked. I care to emphasise the fact that this experiment had a sample size of one.

Dr. Bill Andrews, founder of Sierra Sciences and discoverer of telomerase, the enzyme used by cells to lenghten their own telomeres, has always been dead set on curing ageing—a very noble goal. Thing is, Sierra Sciences and BioViva have now teamed up and apparently launched a company called BioViva Fiji, unsurprisingly located on the homonymous island. They’re building a clinic where this treatment can be administered to arguably rich clients. The reason Fiji was chosen as the location of this clinic is that the Fiji equivalent of FDA seems to have much less strict regulations.

In a video that is not so new any more (I am a slow poster), Dr. Andrews announced the creation of BioViva Fiji and made some pretty bold statements, such as a cure for ageing to be expected “really, really soon.”

You certainly know how much I wish for ageing to be brought under medical control, so you would think I should be excited at the news. I’m not. Why?

This is sketchy as fuck. Bold claims about curing ageing—something most people on the planet probably still think to be nonsense—a private, expensive clinic on the other side of the world where regulations don’t matter as much as setting up medical businesses, and a miracle treatment coming from an experiment with sample size ONE that hasn’t even been fully monitored yet. I’m betting you anything most people’s scam indicator would go through the roof, irrespective of how effective the treatment actually is. This is the kind of stuff that gives the field a bad reputation, and if BioViva were to be wrong or if nasty side effects were to arise as a consequence of the treatment, shit would hit the fan for BioViva, and I fear the shockwave would be felt throughout the entire anti-ageing research field.

It seems awfully simple. Andrews seem to think telomerase/gene therapy is the silver bullet that will fully cure ageing, and while, I repeat, I am not qualified to say he’s wrong, it seems too damn easy. All age-related diseases would boil down to your telomeres getting too short? Is he saying that other age-related damange, like the seven categories of damage that the SENS platform is supposed to fix, are not really relevant? Or can they too be fixed with a shot of telomerase? (I hope he’s not saying that about cancer, because cancer may have 99 problems, but telomerase ain’t one.)

I’m sorry, but I don’t like this. It doesn’t come across as respectable scientists pushing research foward, but rather like a group of a bit too enthusiastic people who think they’ve already solved the general case of a problem because they have got a particular case sort of maybe working. I may be a boring traditionalist, but I still prefer the SENS approach, and I’m not talking only about their approach to defeating ageing, but also to doing science.

About BioViva’s first gene therapy experiment against ageing

The news about BioViva’s first successful intervention on human ageing is not exactly news any more. When your post backlog is as long as mine is, you inevitably end up with some stale news that are still worth dropping a line.

Some months ago, the company BioViva made its first attempt to intervene on an aspect of human ageing through gene therapy. Specifically, the very company’s CEO, Elizabeth Parrish, ‘[…] received two of her own company’s experimental gene therapies: one to protect against loss of muscle mass with age, another to battle stem cell depletion responsible for diverse age-related diseases and infirmities.’

Long story short, as a consequence of the treatment, Parrish’s leukocytes’ telomeres seem to be longer than they usually are at her age. Data seems to indicate they’ve been ‘rejuvenated’ by 20 years.

However, one must understand this is an experiment with a sample size of one, and that BioViva’s CEO will have to be monitored for years to come to make sure the data is correct and there are no nasty side-effects. FightAging! has also voiced a slight skepticism, not so much in the reliability of the data, but rather on the actual correlation between age and telomere length.

I guess we can only wait and see.