Q: "How is aging a disease?"
A: It's a dynamic system that veers away from its homeostasis (normal equilibrium point): hence a form of slow-progressing illness. Labeling it as 'natural' is a surrender to our traditional state of ignorance and powerlessness, which fortunately is beginning to be changed!
Aging is "normal" only from the point of view of the "selfish gene", for whom the body is a disposable carrier. Individuals organisms - for whom self-preservation has a different meaning than for genes - have received scant help from evolution... with rare exceptions such as the T. dohrnii jellyfish (which I discuss here)... but now the time has finally arrived for our rational design to remedy some of the cellular flaws that evolution never bothered to correct!
The above is my standard answer to an oft-asked question.
The science of aging is by all evidence very misunderstood by the general public. Hype, misinformation and unquestioned assumptions often prevail, unfortunately.
Aging as a systemic breakdown of the body, rather than a series of isolated events and conditions.This 2013 diagram from NIH is a good way to jump-start contemplating the big picture:
The Hallmarks of Aging
Telomere shortening is perhaps the one most talked about - but just one of several processes. As stated in the above paper:
Each hallmark should ideally fulfill the following criteria:
(1) it should manifest during normal aging;
(2) its experimental aggravation should accelerate aging; and
(3) its experimental amelioration should retard the normal aging process and hence increase healthy lifespan. This set of ideal requisites is met to varying degrees by the proposed hallmarks
The Business SideThat was a little science background for starters - but how about financial/business considerations?
Here’s a fascinating story about a brilliant 23 y.o. woman, Laura Deming, an MIT graduate who raised $22 million in 2017! She formed Longevity Fund, an early-stage venture capital company currently managing $37 millions to invest in anti-aging companies.
Fortunately, both academic researchers and companies are beginning to advance the relatively new field of anti-aging as a subject of systematic scientific pursuit, the "project Apollo" of our times.
You might have heard about the $300 M invested in Unity Biotechnology; the investors include Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Peter Thiel (Paypal's co-founder.)
Also in recent news was the growing hub of anti-aging startups in the Boston area. And not just Boston; the longevity companies in the San Francisco area, too, among other places. In particular, Calico, Google's research on aging and age-related diseases, founded in 2013. Forbes magazine, in a March 2019 article, reviews opportunities for biotech companies in the Anti-Aging market.
Explosive growth in many directions: even crowdfunding of age-related research.
Anti-aging science is well aligned with my personal research interest in Systems Biology, and in particular Interactomics: I expand on Interactomics and the future of medicine in a separate blog entry.
Who's Who in the Anti-Aging Field?
(Alphabetic listing. More entries will be progressively added as I review them.)
AgeX Therapeutics, San Francisco area, CA
Development and commercialization of novel therapeutics targeting human aging. Its VP of New Technology Discovery is the iconic Aubrey de Grey (a name synonymous with Anti-Aging research and advocacy.)
BioAge, San Francisco area, CA
Working on a broad pipeline of therapies to extend human healthspan and lifespan
Buck Institute for Research on Aging, Novato, CA.
The world’s first biomedical research institution devoted solely to research on aging. In operation since 1999, it has a fairly large faculty in its own sizable campus a little north of San Francisco. They follow many directions, and their website mentions 10 focus areas.
Calico Life Sciences, South San Francisco, CA
Google's research on aging and age-related diseases, founded in 2013. In an extended collaboration with the Broad Institute (MIT and Harvard.)
Celularity, Florham Park, NJ
It has r Peter Diamandis, the founder of the well-known XPRIZE Foundation.)
FightAging.org, something of an information clearinghouse on anti-aging research.
Human Longevity, San Diego, CA
Genomics and cell therapy-based diagnostic and therapeutic company focused on extending the healthy human lifespan
InSilico Medicine, Hong Kong (also with a strong Russian collaboration.)
AI for drug discovery, biomarker development & aging research. They sponsor the Aging Research & Drug Discovery meetings.
Juvena Therapeutics, Palo Alto, CA
Biopharma startup developing protein-based tissue rejuvenation.
Juvenescence, San Diego, CA
Developing therapies to treat diseases of aging and increase human longevity. Their website has a good timeline of the major breakthroughs in aging research
Lifespan.io (LEAF) New York City, NY
Life Extension Advocacy Foundation. A non-profit involved in fundraising, science journalism and running the annual conference Ending Age-Related Diseases.
MDI Biological Laboratory, Salisbury Cove, ME
Non-profit biomedical research institution with a research program in regenerative and aging biology and medicine.
OpenCures, Novato, CA
[I worked here as the CTO between June and Nov. 2020, before relocating to GSK. During my tenure, the company started making use of the game-changing technology of graph databases, which I discuss in this entry.]
A start-up focused on using community research and individuals’ health data to discover and develop interventions in age-related disease. Started by the co-founder of the SENS Research Foundation, Kevin Perrott. A main focus is metabolomics - involving the measurements of a large number of biomarkers carried out by Prodrome Sciences.
Regenerative Medicine Foundation, Wellington, FL
Conferences, Patient Advocacy, Policy, Outreach and Networking
SENS Research Foundation, Mountain View, CA
A non-profit supporting research projects at universities and institutes, with a focus on a damage-repair paradigm for treating the diseases of aging. It co-sponsors the large annual international conference "Undoing Aging", and was co-founded in 2009 by Aubrey de Grey.
Termis : Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society
A very international nonprofit founded in 2006
UNITY Biotechnology, South San Francisco, CA
Their initial focus is on creating "senolytic" medicines to selectively eliminate senescent cells and hopefully treat age-related diseases.
Investors include Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Peter Thiel (Paypal's co-founder.)
Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
It has been engineering laboratory-grown organs that were successfully implanted into humans.
Additional entries (142 companies as of Apr. 2021) in this spreadsheet from AgingBiotech.info
Other News Sources
Events / Conferences
I've been blown away by the galloping pace of recent developments, and the rapid-fire formation of startups to explore promising directions.
As a result of Covid, some of the conference organizers finally added remote-attendance options, which makes it infinitely easier to attend them. Hopefully, the remote options will remain in place.
Here are some conferences that I attended myself, or that I know of:
Aging Research & Drug Discovery meetings. Sponsored by InSilico Medicine.
American Aging Association meetings. Annual. In its 49th year as of the next meeting.
BAAM: Bay Area Aging Meetings. Twice/year. Hosted by UC Berkeley, Stanford, UCSF, Buck Institute for Research on Aging, and the Gladstone Institutes.
Ending Age-Related Diseases. Sponsored by Lifespan.io
I attended the latest one (Aug. 2022), and was impressed.
Metabesity. " ‘Metabesity’ is a term coined by G Alexander Fleming MD to reference the constellation of interconnected diseases with metabolic roots. Targeting these metabolic underpinnings could be a productive approach to delaying, or even preventing, many or most of the chronic diseases of aging." (source)
I attended the latest one (Oct. 2022): another fine conference!
Undoing Aging. Large annual international conference.
Additional entries in this spreadsheet from AgingBiotech.info
Dear conference organizers, the option of remote access to conferences OUGHT TO be given, no matter what, pandemic or not! Conferences are meant to bring people together in different combinations, to reshuffle ideas, etc.
A conference that's only onsite is basically saying: "if you live far away, or don't have the budget or the time or the option to travel, get lost!"
The net result is cliques of people talking to each other, rather than a true global mixing!
On Social Media
Facebook pages by organizations:
Open Cures (I worked here in 2020)
Ending aging: SENS, SENS Foundation, Aubrey de Grey
Informal community discussion of the work of Aubrey de Grey and SENS Research Foundation (SRF)
Review of Facebook groups:
Venture Fundsfightaging.org lists the following Venture Funds:
- Apollo Ventures
- Emerging Longevity Ventures
- Kizoo Technology Ventures
- Kronos Bioventures
- Longevity Fund
A venture vehicle dedicated to breakthroughs in age-related disease. Co-founded by Sergey Young. Fund overview. 2021 book by Sergey Young: The Science and Technology of Growing Young
- Mann Bioinvest
- Methuselah Fund
- Thynk Capital