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Progress in the longevity science and industry – 2022

Saudi billions to support longevity

The Hevolution Foundation was created in 2021 by a Saudi Royal Decree and is sponsored by the Saudi government. The foundation committed $1B per year to fund longevity research and invest in longevity biotech companies. In 2022, Hevolution ramped up its operations awarding $8.5M to fund American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR) New Investigator Awards, $2M to sponsor Longevity Impetus Grants, $2.6M to support geroscience research in Saudi Arabia, and $5M to support grants reviewed by the National Institute on Aging. 

Sequencing the whole human genome

Understanding how DNA differs from person to person is essential for the development of personalized medicine. Thanks to advances in gene sequencing technologies, the Telomere-to-Telomere consortium was able to sequence the human genome completely (Science, 2022). Previously, The Human Genome Project sequenced approximately 92% of the human genome, but the remaining parts were inaccessible with conventional sequencing methods.

Aging biology at the doctor’s office

The Healthy Longevity Medicine Society was created to set clinical practice standards in geroscience and establish longevity medicine as an independent medical specialty.

Early detection of cancer

A research team in Sweden identified a blood biomarker panel for the early detection of 14 types of cancer by measuring changes in the profile of circulating glycosaminoglycans, a kind of sugar molecule most cells produce and release into circulation (PNAS, 2022). This method could be cheaper than genetic screening tests being developed by biotech companies.  For example, Grail is optimizing a test to detect circulating cell-free DNA from cancer cells in standard blood samples, while Tzar Labs is working on a platform to detect cancer genetic material in very small circulating cancer cells.

A new biological clock

Epigenetic modifications change gene expression, but do not change the actual sequence of the gene. These modifications allow cells in different organs to have different characteristics, even though they all share the same genetic code. Aging is linked to widespread changes in the epigenetic landscape, which are predictable and can be measured using epigenetic clocks. Dr. Horvath created a new epigenetic clock, DNAmGrimAge2, which considers epigenetic markers of inflammation and abnormal sugar metabolism (Aging-US, 2022). DNAmGrimAge2 is more accurate than its predecessors in predicting the risk of developing coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and time-to-death.

The rise of cellular reprogramming

Cellular reprogramming aims to reset the epigenetic profile and its associated gene expression pattern to a younger state. Cellular reprogramming has the potential to fix age-related changes at multiple levels, so several biotechnology companies are exploring cellular reprogramming to extend healthspan. Altos Labs scientist Dr. Reik developed a method to reprogram cells temporarily and selectively, which reversed the biological age of the cells by 30 years (Elife, 2022). Another Altos Labs scientist, Dr. Ispizua Belmonte, showed that long-term reprogramming was safe and could reverse age-related organ damage in mice (Nature Aging, 2022). His group also found that an RNA-based therapy that blocked a specific protein involved in epigenetic regulation could reverse the biological age of mice and reduce inflammation (Science Translational Medicine, 2022). According to a recent press release, Turn Biotechnologies used an mRNA cocktail of reprogramming factors and a special delivery system to increase cell division and collagen production in human skin cells.

Targeting senescent cells to prevent blindness

Senescent cells stop dividing, release harmful proteins into their environment, cannot die, and accumulate with age. Treatments to selectively remove senescent cells, i.e., senolytic therapies, are being explored to treat aging and age-related diseases. Unity Biotechnology, a biotech company  backed by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel,  reported positive data from a multicenter randomized phase II clinical trial evaluating a senolytic small molecule to treat diabetic macular edema, a leading cause of blindness.

Swapping cellular batteries in humans

Mitochondria are responsible for producing energy and start failing with age. Mitochondrial transplant is an option to reverse this age-related mitochondrial dysfunction. Minovia, an Israel-based biotech company, showed that it is possible to transplant mitochondria in humans. In a phase I/II clinical trial, children with a severe congenital mitochondrial disease received healthy mitochondria from their mothers. Healthy mitochondria were transplanted directly into a patient’s blood stem cells outside of the body. Stem cells carrying new mitochondria were later injected back into the patient. The treatment was still effective after one year (Science Translational Medicine, 2022). Minovia has a partnership with Astellas Pharma and could receive up to $420 million in milestone payments.