American tech billionaire Jeff Bezos first brought us Amazon, which brings us, well, anything you can buy. Now, he’s trying to bring back our youth. In October 2020, some of the world’s top scientists came together for a discussion on biotechnology and anti-aging. This is where they’re at so far.
Can Jeff Bezos Actually Bring Us Anti-Aging Technology That Makes Us Younger?
Anti-aging biotechnology sounds like some crazy, Benjamin Button-style science fiction. I assure you, however, it is much more real than you might think. According to MIT Technology Review, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner brought some of the world’s greatest scientific minds to his mansion in October of last year to discuss the topic of using biotechnology to make people younger. (1)
Each of the experts in the room spoke about their various experiments in rejuvenating animals. After this meeting, the billionaire, backed by investor Jeff Bezos, formed a company called Altos Labs. The company is researching and experimenting with what’s called biological reprogramming technology. This is a way to rejuvenate cells that some believe could be used to revitalize animals’ entire bodies, and perhaps eventually even be extended to humans.
The goal of Altos Labs is not just anti-aging for aesthetic purposes, but also to prolong human life. The company is already incorporated in the UK and the US. They have institutes in Japan, Cambridge (UK), the Bay Area, and San Diego. They have recruited and are still recruiting more university scientists to join their research, offering extremely high salaries to each of them. Scientists who have already joined the team include:
- Spanish biologist at the Salk Institute in California Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte.
- Known for combining human and monkey embryos and has said that he thinks human lifespan could be increased by 50 years
- UCLA professor Steve Horvath
- Developer of a “biological clock” that can accurately predict human aging
- 2012 Nobel Prize winner Shinya Yamanaka
- Won for the discovery of reprogramming and will be the chair of Altos’ scientific advisory board
- Peter Walter, whose laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco, is behind a molecule that shows incredible positive effects on memory
- Reprogramming specialist Wolf Reik who recently resigned as the director of the Babraham Institute in the UK
Yamanaka discovered that when you add four proteins to cells, you can instruct them to revert to a primitive state with the same properties as embryonic stem cells. These proteins are now called Yamanaka Factors. Belmonte’s lab applied these factors to living mice in 2016 and they actually achieved signs of age reversal. It still, however, is not fool-proof: While some of the mice showed signs of “reverse-aging”, others developed nasty tumors.
“Although there are many hurdles to overcome, there is huge potential,” stated Yamanaka.
Curiosity and Exploration
Altos Labs is essentially a place where scientists can be curious and bold in their research. As a privately-funded lab, they can ask questions and research topics that they are otherwise limited in other scenarios. Their immediate goal is not to make money, but rather to make discoveries. They understand, of course, that if successful, their anti-aging research could be worth billions. (2)
“The philosophy of Altos Labs is to do curiosity-driven research. This is what I know how to do and love to do,” said Altos researcher Manuel Serrano. “In this case, through a private company, we have the freedom to be bold and explore… The aim is to understand rejuvenation. I would say the idea of having revenue in the future is there, but it’s not the immediate goal.”
Anti-Aging Rejuvenation Technology
Altos Labs aren’t the only ones investing time and money into rejuvenation technology. Other companies pursuing reprogramming technology include Life Biosciences, Turn Biotechnologies, AgeX Therapeutics, and Uk-based Shift Biosciences are all working on similar technologies.
“There are hundreds of millions of dollars being raised by investors to invest in reprogramming, specifically aimed at rejuvenating parts or all of the human body,” says David Sinclair, a researcher at Harvard University. “In my lab we are ticking off the major organs and tissues, for instance skin, muscle and brain —to see which we can rejuvenate.”
The researchers are explicit that their rejuvenation research is nowhere near ready for human applications. Still, it is an interesting and exciting new territory that can have many positive applications for humans in the future. Until then, we will have to wait and see what these top minds discover next.