- Jeff Bezos has invested in a research company Altos Labs which claims to have successfully conducted age reversal in cells.
- Altos Labs have recruited the best scientists in the country to work on experimental studies with animals before moving on to human trials.
- The side effects produced by Altos’ technology have been criticised and its availability for human use is in question.
More than a dozen new startups are born every day in Northern California’s Silicon Valley. But among them, Altos Labs has managed to catch attention due to two major reasons. Number one, with their claims of conducting successful age-reversal studies which they believe, can significantly prolong human life. Number two, in finding an investor in the richest man on Earth, Amazon ex- CEO Jeff Bezos.
What does Altos Labs do?
Altos Labs is conducting experimental studies using reprogramming technology. That means they are researching various methods of modifying normal adult cells causing them to revert to stem cells. These stem cells are specialized cells that are found in the embryonic life of an organism. Thus, in the clinical sense of the term, Altos Labs has achieved reversal of age.
Another area Altos looks into is using a “biological clock technique” to measure the age of a cell. All cells have genes that can be switched on or off according to the body’s requirements. This property of cells is lost with increasing age. The biological clock technique evaluates this parameter to measure the cell’s age.
How is age reversal research beneficial?
Scientists have successfully managed to produce stem cells via reprogramming at Altos. These stem cells have been said to have the power of totipotency. Totipotency is the ability of stem cells to grow into any cell of any organ of the human body.
If all goes well, this means that age reversal research can contribute towards the treatment of conditions related to cell death in various organs. Vision loss, brain injuries and spinal cord injuries are a few examples of life-altering conditions which can be treated.
Such landmarks achieved by Altos has been rightly named as “The elixir of life”. If available in the medical field in the future, anti-ageing research can prolong life and raise life expectancy rates by at least 50 years.
How safe is Altos’ research?
Currently, Altos is experimenting with animals mainly monkeys and mice. In mice especially tons of unwanted side effects were noted after the reprogramming of adult cells. As soon as their cells reverted to the embryonic stage, they developed cancerous tumours called teratomas. Teratomas are benign or malignant and occur as complications during cell differentiation.
Many are now criticising Altos Labs on ethical as well as scientific grounds. Researchers are questioning whether reprogramming technology is worth its hype. They believe this technique might be useful in an isolated extract of cells but is highly dangerous in a living body. With reprogramming, a cell might ” age backwards” but at the same time, it loses its identity. Scientists believe Altos’ elixir is still far away from being used in human therapy.
Faces Behind Altos Labs
With a whopping 270 million USD investment backing them, Altos Labs has recruited some of the best geneticists and researchers in the country. A few notable among them include Salk Institute biochemist, Belmonte. Belmonte and the team are known for creating monkey-human hybrids called Chimeras in China. Next, there’s Steve Horvath, a geneticist from the University of California, who pioneered the biological clock technique. Also, the head of Altos Labs’ advisory board is the 2012 Nobel prize winner, Shinya Yamanaka.
Jeff Bezos has been a long-standing patron of research into stopping diseases and increasing human life expectancy. His investment firm, Bezos Expeditions, has invested in several anti-ageing companies such as Unity Biotechnology and several research companies such as Sana Biotechnology and Denali Therapeutics. Clearly, the billionaire believes that the goal of prolonging life is a legacy he wishes to leave behind.
Cellular research startups are currently experiencing a rat race of billionaires waiting in queue to invest. The world has already witnessed several rich men wanting to experience immortality. Yet, the enormous safety risk associated with genetic reprogramming cannot be denied. How effective will such research be and how much of such technology will be available at affordable values to the common public will be interesting to note in the future.