Genetics Pioneer George Church Wants to Reverse Age

George Church’s idea is to “have the body and mind of a 22-year-old but the experience of a 130-year-old.” (Credit: The Church Lab)

Genetics pioneer, George Church is behind a start-up that plans to reverse ageing in dogs, and humans could be next.

The company, called Rejuvenate Bio, and co-founded by Harvard’s Church, plans to rejuvenate man’s best friend using gene therapy, and if it works, Church himself might be one of the first volunteers to try the same approach in humans.

By adding new DNA instructions to animals’ bodies, the company claims it will make it “younger”. The company has already carried out preliminary tests on beagles.

“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 Rob Reid in an episode of the After On Podcast.  

For years, scientists have been trying to conquer the ageing process, it was only a couple of months ago that biologists reported that a molecule already sold by supplement makers restored youthfulness to blood vessels in 20 month-old mice.

Rejuvenate Bio’s plans build on tantalizing clues seen in simple organisms like worms and flies, writes Antonio Regalado for Technology Review. Tweaking their genes can increase their life spans by double or better.

It’s still unknown if the company’s treatments will work in dogs. But if it does, it won’t take long for people to want to try out similar remedies, creating a market ripe for investment.

“Dogs are a market in and of themselves,” Church said during an event in Boston last week, according to Technology Review. “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 human trials.”

 

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The scientists figured that treating pets because it would take too long to provide evidence that it’s possible to increase human longevity. “You don’t want to go to the FDA and say we extend life by 20 years. They’d say, ‘Great, come back in 20 years with the data,’” Church continued during the Boston event, writes Technology Review.So the company’s plan is to stop fatal heart ailments common in spaniels and Doberman pinchers, amassing evidence that the concepts can work in humans too.

Some scientists claim that mastery over ageing is inevitable, although no one can say exactly how soon it will happen. According to David Sinclair, a Harvard biologist who collaborates with the Church lab, the prolongation of human lifespan is “the biggest thing that is going to happen in the 21st century”, and that “it’s going to make what Elon Musk is doing look fairly pedestrian.”

Church is a busy man, just last week we reported that he’s putting his efforts into using an alternative technology in a bid to recode an entire human genome in hundreds of thousands of locations, in order to make it immune to viruses. This is all part of a wider effort, called GP-Write, which aims to reduce the cost of editing DNA by 1,000-fold, much as the original Human Genome Project led to a dramatic decrease in the cost of reading human DNA. 

He’s also a co-founder of Nebula Genomics, a start-up that it seeks to lead the genomic data market by utilizing blockchain, the technology that underlies transactions of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.