Startup claims genetic reprogramming allows mice to live longer
Mice only live for months in the wild but can survive two to three years in the lab. Those who took part in the latest experiment were already 124 weeks old when they received the drug, which is near the end of their life. Not only did the treated mice survive significantly longer, according to Davidsohn, but they also performed better on measures of general health.
The observed increase in lifespan is not in itself unprecedented. A US government program that tests drugs for their effects on longevity has shown that several compounds, including the drug rapamycin, can extend the lives of mice by 5-15%.
But mice have to take these drugs for a large part of their lives, whereas the reprogramming has immediate effects. “It’s like you can’t do anything with your whole life and still enjoy it,” Davidsohn says.
Rejuvenate is currently developing gene therapy drugs for pet dogs and humans, including one designed to treat heart failure. But Davidsohn says that in the long term, he believes it will be possible to rejuvenate human beings. “I wouldn’t work there if I didn’t believe in it,” he says.
Much more information will be needed to know exactly what changes the reprogramming genes cause in mice, and the researchers say other groups will have to repeat the experiment before they are convinced. “I’d like to see a separate group do something similar and dig deeper into what’s really going on,” says Borch Jensen.
Sebastiano says the life-prolonging effect reported by Rejuvenate could be due to changes in a single organ or group of cells, rather than a general mouse-wide rejuvenation effect. Among other shortcomings of its research, Rejuvenate failed to carefully document which cells and how many cells were changed by the gene treatment.
Several companies are now moving forward with drug rescheduling plans, but they choose recognized medical conditions and limit their efforts to specific organs.
Turn Bio, a company co-founded by Sebastiano, for example, hopes to inject reprogramming factors into people’s skin to fight wrinkles or kick-start hair growth. Another company, Life Biosciences, is preparing to test whether reprogramming cells in the eye can treat blindness.