The prolongation of human lifespan is “the biggest thing that is going to happen in the 21st century,” says David Sinclair, a Harvard biologist. “It’s going to make what Elon Musk is doing look fairly pedestrian.”
The world’s most influential synthetic biologist, George Church of Harvard Medical School, is behind a new company that plans to rejuvenate dogs using gene therapy. If it works, he plans to try the same approach in people, and he might be one of the first volunteers. Starting around 2015, Church’s large Harvard lab, also known for attempting to genetically resurrect the woolly mammoth, decided to make a run at rejuvenating mice using gene therapy and newer tools like CRISPR.
The stealth startup Rejuvenate Bio thinks dogs aren’t just man’s best friend but also the best way to bring age-defeating treatments to market. The company, which has carried out preliminary tests on beagles, claims it will make animals “younger” by adding new DNA instructions to their bodies.
Its age-reversal plans, continues Antonio Regalado in MIT’s Technology Review, build on tantalizing clues seen in simple organisms like worms and flies. Tweaking their genes can increase their life spans by double or better. Other research has shown that giving old mice blood transfusions from young ones can restore some biomarkers to youthful level
“We have already done a bunch of trials in mice and we are doing some in dogs, and then we’ll move on to humans,” Church told the podcaster Rob Reid earlier this year. The company’s other founders, CEO Daniel Oliver and science lead Noah Davidsohn, a postdoc in Church’s sprawling Boston lab, declined to be interviewed for this article.
The company’s efforts to keep its activities out of the press make it unclear how many dogs it has treated so far. In a document provided by a West Coast veterinarian, dated last June, Rejuvenate said its gene therapy had been tested on four beagles with Tufts Veterinary School in Boston. It is unclear whether wider tests are under way.
However, from public documents, a patent application filed by Harvard, interviews with investors and dog breeders, and public comments made by the founders, MIT Technology Review assembled a portrait of a life-extension startup pursuing a longevity long shot through the $72-billion-a-year US pet industry.
“Dogs are a market in and of themselves,” Church said during an event in Boston last week. “It’s not just a big organism close to humans. It’s something people will pay for, and the FDA process is much faster. We’ll do dog trials, and that’ll be a product, and that’ll pay for scaling up in human trials.”
It’s still unknown if the company’s treatments do anything for dogs. If they do work, however, it might not take long for people to clamor for similar nostrums, creating riches for inventors.
The effort draws on ongoing advances in biotechnology, including the ability to edit genes. To some scientists, this progress means that mastery over aging is inevitable, although no one can say exactly how soon it will happen.
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