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Frontiers in Longevity: How do we slow human ageing?

19 July 2021

Author: David Weinkove, CEO, Magnitude Biosciences

On July 14, 2021, I attended a Clubhouse discussion on the future of longevity and ageing research, hosted by Nathan Cheng, Laura Manquini and Avi Roy and which featured prominent members of the ageing research and biotech communities, including Jay Olshansky, Nir Barzilai, Alejandro Ocampo, Kristen Fortney, George Church and Jim Mellon.  Many fantastic ideas were discussed but a few in particular really stood out to me as critical for the promise of upcoming scientific breakthroughs to slow ageing in humans.  

Why do we care about increasing human longevity?

Jay Olshanky raised that recent modelling suggests that extending life expectancy by only one year on average will have a positive economic impact of $38 trillion, so it’s worth going after the small increments to improve lifespan, even though individual people will want to live much longer than an extra year than expected.

Where are we going to get the money to fund critical ageing research?

Jim Mellon raised that about $4.5 billion has been invested in private companies to develop therapies to slow ageing but much much more is required to make a substantial impact on human ageing. So for longevity research, we are still in the equivalent of the dialup stage of the internet and have a long way to go if we want to see real breakthroughs here.

How do we make slowing ageing actually feasible? 

Kristen Fortney reminded us that 100s of interventions extend lifespan in C. elegans so potentially 100s of different things will work in humans as well. George Church added that we may have to combine interventions that, on their own, have small effects but together may be additive or even have synergistic effects. C. elegans is thus the ideal tool to test the thousands of possible combinations of interventions.

The cart before the horse: Do we need to know more basic biology before we can live longer?

I brought up the question of whether to extend ageing, we need to know much more about basic biology. Nir Barzilai said that it is clear that experiments in model organisms show that whole pathways are affected by drugs that slow ageing, so it’s not necessary to know everything about what those pathways do. George Church added that engineering doesn’t necessarily need a full understanding of the underlying science. For example, we developed antibiotics long before we understood how they worked. He may have a point – there is so much biology we still don’t understand (e.g. we don’t know the function of over a third of genes in E. coli, probably the most studied organism on the planet) but if we have a good quantitative readout of ageing, we can find out what works. I think this is where the technology and approach developed at Magnitude Biosciences to measure worm health over their life cycle could really help in this critical moment for ageing research.

Read more about our work with drug developers to develop therapies to slow ageing and prevent age-related disease and chronic conditions: https://magnitudebiosciences.com/ageing/

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