Though the idea and historic human desire to ‘cure’ ageing has been a prevalent, unwavering topic in our scientific discussions, its virality spiralled following reports of resident billionaire Jeff Bezos funding the anti-ageing venture AltosLabs. Now, much like the billionaire boom in space—the latest being Yusaku Maezawa handing out cash off-planet—anti-ageing has become the new race among the rich. Enter NewLimit and its ambitious co-founders: crypto billionaire Brian Armstrong and bioengineer and tech investor Blake Byers. The company’s goal? To help us live forever—well, more precisely, to greatly extend our human lifespan.
Often when we think of anti-ageing, our minds instantly conjure up superficial images of wrinkle-free, ageless faces—I mean, we are right in the middle of a boom of Botox after all—but the NewLimit co-founders have something different in mind. For Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase, and Byers, who has a PhD in bioengineering from Stanford University, the goal focuses on and prioritises the extension of healthspan as opposed to just lifespan. It’s aim? To improve quality of life in age-related health issues.
“Imagine if you could live the same number of years, but be free from pain, and have the same mobility and cognition as someone in their thirties. If we could maintain this state, how many of us would still want to have our lifespan end at the ‘normal’ time?” the founders stated in a press release last week. “Ageing is one of the largest sources of pain and suffering hiding in plain sight all around us, and we believe there is a moral imperative to try and end this suffering that affects every one of us,” they continued. But will it be available to all of us? We’ll get into that shortly, but first, let’s look at what you’re all here for—the tech.
Though the co-founders acknowledged that the pursuit to ‘cure’ ageing is “ambitious” and will likely take many, many decades to come to successful fruition (if possible), they’ve also added that it is imperative for them to start as soon as possible. NewLimit hopes to do this through epigenetics. But what is it? Epigenetics, as mentioned as part of the press release, is a phenomenon that began 15 years ago—a discovery which showed that “your cells are far more plastic than [previously] assumed.” With as little as four proteins, cells can be completely changed.
Input noted how the founders reference these claims from Nobel Prize-winning research, first published in 2006, that describes these four proteins as “Yamanaka factors” and uses them “to reprogram aged cells into immature cells—creating stem cells, the undifferentiated cells common in embryos, from the plain old issue in your body right now.” This is what NewLimit hopes to utilise in its aim to aid age-related health concerns and bring back the regenerative qualities of our bodies in youth.
“NewLimit plans to initially focus on this mechanism: epigenetic reprogramming. Put simply, we want to figure out a way to restore the regenerative potential we all had when we were younger, but somehow lost. The last year has emphasised this point on a global scale. We still do not know why the elderly have a weaker immune system and are more susceptible to infection and receive less protection from vaccines,” the founders claimed.
The company’s first steps to such programming is to develop the necessary “machine learning models” to understand what changes occur in our bodies with age and how they can be stopped or even reversed.
Back to that very important question, will this be available to the everyday person or just for the Bezos billionaires of the world? Armstrong and Byers addressed this concern in the same press release. They claim that, like most state-of-the-art breakthrough advancements which often first come with a hefty price tag, the same will occur with NewLimit. However, overtime the cost of anything new drives down and becomes increasingly accessible to everyone. “Some of these products take decades to get to lower costs, but we hope to move much faster than that,” they stated.
The company is still in its infant stages, with its founding team yet to be completely formed. NewLimit is currently on the lookout for like-minded individuals interested in the pursuit and progression of biotech. Who knows? You could be that individual.
While Elon Musk is working on improvements to Tesla’s autopilot features and teaching a monkey how to play Pong with its mind, Jeff Bezos—his now well-known nemesis—is allegedly partaking in yet another futuristic venture, one that could soon allow humans to live longer. Introducing Altos Labs, a biological reprogramming tech company currently looking into a variety of methods that could help reverse the ageing process.
As of now, the company has raised more than $270 million in funding thanks to massive donations from people all over the world who are banking on the company’s promise, Bezos included. Bezos is said to have a fairly long-standing interest in longevity research, and he previously invested in an anti-ageing company called Unity Biotechnology. Another investor, along with the richest man in the world, is Russian-Israeli entrepreneur Yuri Milner, as reported by the MIT Technology Review.
One method being studied by Altos Labs is whether this reprogramming could teach cells to revert back to their ‘stem cell’ origins, make them readapt to the skin and give it a more youthful appearance. In order to do so, Altos Labs has recruited Nobel Prize winner Doctor Shinya Yamanaka, who will serve as an unpaid senior scientist, chairing the company’s scientific advisory board.
“The Japanese researcher discovered that four specific proteins, now known as ‘Yamanaka factors’, could be added to a cell that would help reprogram it into its stem cell state,” reports Lad Bible. Also joining Altos Labs’ team is Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, a Spanish biologist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, who won notoriety for research into mixing human and monkey embryos and who has also predicted that human lifespans could be increased by 50 years.
Just so you get an idea of who we’re dealing with here, by 2016, Izpisúa Belmonte’s lab had applied Yamanaka factors to living mice, achieving signs of age reversal and leading him to term reprogramming a potential “elixir of life.”
Last but not least, the biological reprogramming tech company has also hired Steve Horvath, a UCLA professor and developer of a “biological clock” that can accurately measure human ageing, Peter Walter. Walter’s laboratory at the University of California is behind a molecule that shows remarkable effects on memory, alongside Doctor Jennifer Doudna, who won a Nobel Prize in 2020 for her co-discovery of CRISPR gene editing, as well as Manuel Serrano from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB).
Altos Labs is luring more university professors by offering salaries of $1 million a year or more, plus equity, as well as freedom from the hassle of applying for grants. Serrano, who plans to move to Cambridge in the UK to join an Altos facility there, said the company would pay him five to ten times what he earns now. “The philosophy of Altos Labs is to do curiosity-driven research. This is what I know how to do and love to do,” Serrano told the MIT Technology Review. “In this case, through a private company, we have the freedom to be bold and explore. In this way, it will rejuvenate me.”
Long story short, although Altos Labs has so far managed to recruit some impressive names in the biological reprogramming sector, as well as some pretty big investors, its research still needs a lot of work before it can ever be applied to humans. But who wants to be a party pooper when there’s a possibility that in a couple of years, we’ll all still look and feel like 20 year-olds? Dystopian movie plots aside, I’m excited.