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November 18, 2009

Immortality Inc

Reason.com Ronald Bailey covered the Manhattan Beach Project. Over the weekend Maximum Life Foundation president David Kekich gathered a group of scientists, entrepreneurs, and visionaries to meet for three days with the goal of developing a scientific and business strategy to make extreme human life extension a real possibility within a couple of decades.

How much cash is needed to get a good start on the goal of stopping aging by 2024 and demonstrating that it can be reversed by 2029? Kekich crunched numbers to come with a figure of a mere $63 million to jump start a future of perpetual youth. Of course some avenues are already being explored by well-funded biotech and pharmaceutical companies, e.g. calorie restriction mimetics like sirtuins. After batting around a few ideas, the group finally focused on a proposal by Bill Faloon to create a public life extension research company. The goal of the corporation would be raise money to invest specifically in companies that research technologies aiming to stop and reverse aging, not just treat diseases. The Manhattan Beach Project participants would seek to raise an initial $5 million before bringing the company to the public. Faloon and another participant committed a million dollars to the project. One idea was to call it MaxLife Capital, but my favorite proposed corporate moniker was Immortality, Inc.

* University of California, Riverside biochemist Stephen Spindler reported on his research seeking caloric restriction mimetics. He presented early results that show that some compounds, like cholesterol lowering statin drugs and the immune suppressant rapamycin, do seem to increase mouse lifespans. However, Spindler added that more is not necessarily better. Mice receiving combinations of compounds are not living any longer. The good news is that several major pharmaceutical companies are working on calorie restriction mimetics known as sirtuins.

* Michael Rose has produced fruit flies that live four times longer than normal, the human equivalent of being healthy at age 300. The Methuselah flies are more fecund and better at handling environmental stresses than are normal flies. Since fruit flies and humans share many similar genes, insights garnered from the genomics of long-lived flies are being used by Genescient LLC to develop anti-aging supplements for people. The company plans to release its first product in 2010. “In my world biological immortality is possible,” said Rose.




* William Andrews, head of Sierra Sciences (motto “Cure Aging or Die Trying”) talked about his company’s project to identify compounds that lengthen telomeres. Why do that? Telomeres are repeated sequences of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes to keep them from unraveling and to keep them from binding to other chromosomes. At conception, telomeres are about 15,000 repeats long. Each time a cell divides it loses about 100 repeats, growing ever shorter. When the repeats get short enough, cells generally receive a signal that tells them to die. Andrews argues that telomeres control aging in cells and thus control aging in us. A new study this month reports that centenarians have longer telomeres than controls do.

* The goal of Sierra Sciences is to develop compounds that will reactivate telomerase in somatic cells to stop telomere shortening. After screening more than 160,000 compounds, Sierra has come up with 33 that activate telomerase and lengthen telomeres. “This would be the biggest thing to hit the planet, if we can turn these into drugs,’ said Andrews. Also represented at the summit was TA Sciences which manufactures a telomerase activator as a supplement called TA 65, which is derived from the astragalus plant. Cost? A mere $8,000 for a six month supply.

* Former biotech company founder Robert Bradbury proposed that the accumulation of misrepaired double strand breaks in the DNA that makes up our genes as a significant cause of aging. By age 70, each cell averages several thousand double strand breaks. However, some cells are unscathed by these breaks. Bradbury is developing techniques to identify these “pristine stem cells” which he believes may be used to grow new organs and tissues to replace damaged or old ones.

* Theoretical biogerontologist, Aubrey de Grey, the founder of the SENS Foundation and the Methuselah Foundation, is the energizer bunny of anti-aging scientific research and advocacy. SENS stands for Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, which De Grey defines as “an integrated set of medical techniques designed to restore youthful molecular and cellular structure to aged tissues and organs.”

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