Posted on Nov 16, 2016, 6 a.m.
Investors are uniting in the fight against age-related diseases.
Some big investors have made it their purpose to fight age-related diseases and even slow down the aging process. Unity Biotechnology, a San Francisco startup, has raised $116 million from venture capitalists in its bid to find treatments for the diseases that accompany aging. The science behind this endeavor includes modifying human cells that have ceased their ability to divide therefore reaching a state of senescence. These cells are considered to be worn out by the body and are a major cause of aging and disease.
Big Names & Companies Invest Millions to Cure Aging
Unity Biotechnology is getting a lot of financial help from big names like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and a host of other venture capital companies like Venrock, Wuxi, Mayo Clinic Ventures, Baillie Gifford, and Partner Funds Management. Unity Biotechnology has been hard at work for five years already and is developing pharmaceuticals with the potential to clear senescent cells from the human body.
Another big player in fighting aging is Google's life extension company Calico (California Life Company). This Company was launched in 2013 with a mission of advancing technology to understand the biological process of limited human life spans. They announced plans to invest $750 million in research money to design drugs to one-day cure diseases caused by aging.
What is Cellular Senescence?
Recently there have been many studies on cellular aging and on senescent cells in particular, because these cells are considered to be old cells. They have exhausted their ability to divide into newer cells, and research is already uncovering which diseases are associated with cellular senescence.
All animals including humans have cells that divide such as skin and muscle cells. As we age, some cells have a given number of divisions. One experiment involves taking fibroblast cells and keeping them alive in a flask until they stop dividing. The division ends at about 50. At this time all the remaining cells are senescent. While dividing cells can lead to DNA mutations that can lead to diseases like cancer, when they stop dividing and become senescent cells they can release damaging compounds to the surrounding tissues. Cellular senescence is thought to cause diseases like Type 2 diabetes, kidney failure, as well as old age.
Removing Senescent Cells From the Body
Scientists wonder what would happen if they could remove old cells from the body. Would this stop age-related diseases or even old age itself? According to co-founder of Unity Nathaniel David, there are many different mechanisms to the aging process and senescent cells are just one of these. And it may take a few decades to identify them all.
As stated in a study published in the journal Nature, treatments on lab mice that targeted and killed the old senescent cells proved to extend the lives of the mice. And the experiment may indicate that viable treatments for humans could soon follow. Another study published in the journal Science showed promise for the removal of senescent cells inside artery plaque of mice. This plaque is a precursor to cardiovascular disease.
This new research is getting a shot in the arm from investors and companies vying in competition to market the new pharmaceuticals of the very near future. If scientists can learn how to clear these senescent cells from the human body, then humanity will be one step closer to slowing aging and halting age-related diseases.