Complex Made Simple

The technology behind newest search for good old fountain of youth

Can death become obsolete? For thousands of years, mankind has tried and failed to find the elixir of life. No one had the luxury of today's technology, or the kind of money being thrown behind it

Altos Labs has raised at least $270 million to develop biological reprogramming technology Calico, which draws comparisons to Altos, also has a lab that focuses on reprogramming Scientists recently found that DNA damage is responsible for most, if not all, features of aging

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has invested in a new research-based startup named Altos Labs dedicated to figuring out how to reverse the aging process.

Bezos has already invested in anti-aging research before with a firm called Unity Technologies in 2018, a biotech company that aims to develop anti-aging therapies.

Altos Labs was founded earlier this year and has raised at least $270 million to develop biological reprogramming technology, a way to rejuvenate cells in the lab.

The secretive company is hiring academics who will earn $1 million in annual salaries in hopes of discovering anti-aging formulas that would be worth billions. It plans to open several institutes in San Francisco’s Bay Area, San Diego, Cambridge, the UK, and Japan.   

Biological reprogramming is the process of ‘instructing cells’ or introducing elements that allow cells to revert to a younger embryonic stage, effectively reversing their entire aging process.

A number of startups are pursuing reprogramming technology, including Life Biosciences, Turn Biotechnologies, AgeX Therapeutics, and Shift Bioscience in the UK. However, these efforts have not yet led to any treatments tested on people in clinical trials.

“There are hundreds of millions of dollars being raised by investors to invest in reprogramming, specifically aimed at rejuvenating parts or all of the human body,” says David Sinclair, a researcher at Harvard University who last December reported restoring sight to mice using the technique.

Calico, which draws comparisons to Altos, also has a lab that focuses on reprogramming and has published its first preprint on the topic earlier this year.

Shinya Yamanaka, a 2021 Nobel Prize winner for his discovery of reprogramming, will serve on the company’s scientific advisory board, while Spanish biologist Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, who became known for leading a team that implanted human cells into monkey embryos and predicted that humans could live for another 50 years, has also reportedly joined the company. Also joining is Steve Horvath, a UCLA professor and developer of a “biological clock” that can accurately measure human aging.

Yamanaka’s breakthrough discovery was that with the addition of just four proteins, now known as Yamanaka factors, cells can be instructed to revert to a primitive state with the properties of embryonic stem cells.

As for Izpisúa Belmonte’s lab, by 2016, it had applied the implants to entire living mice, achieving signs of age reversal and leading him to term reprogramming a potential “elixir of life.”

The search for everlasting fame and fortunes

The pursuit of achieving immortality and reversing aging is an area of science that has attracted many of the world’s wealthiest tech entrepreneurs, including Google co-founder Larry Page who helped to found Calico Labs, and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who also invested in Unity Biotechnology, all convinced that death may become obsolete in the next 40-100 years.

In his final letter to Amazon shareholders before resigning as CEO, Bezos included a quote ruminating on death and decay that he’d found in a book by the biologist Richard Dawkins: “Staving off death is a thing that you have to work at…If living things don’t actively work to prevent it, they would eventually merge with their surroundings and cease to exist as autonomous beings. That is what happens when they die.”

Rewinding the clock to your younger days could be one way to do that.

DNA- An aging culprit

Scientists recently found that DNA damage is responsible for most, if not all, features of aging, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature.

Physically speaking, any organism is a consequence of both its genetic makeup and its environmental influences. Gentotypes are unique genetic patterns you inherit from your biological parents, whereas phenotypes can change due to environmental and lifestyle influences, such as great stress, trauma, diet, socialization, and many other factors.

Altos will also be working with related technology for measuring the relative age of a cell, or a person. That biological clock technique, pioneered by Horvath, involves measuring the “epigenetic” marks on genes. These molecular features turn genes on and off, but their pattern becomes disorganized as people age. Such a biomarker of aging would be an important way to measure the effect of any longevity or age-reversal drug that is developed. It’s difficult to run a medical study that demonstrates life extension since it would take too long, but a biomarker could be employed instead.

There is also a strong scientific connection between aging clocks and reprogramming since reprogramming appears to work by remodeling the epigenetic marks in a cell’s genome to an immature or naive state. That means Altos will be working at the leading edge of both causing and measuring rejuvenation.

Fighting aging the old fashion way

You should at least get the basics into your anti-aging routine started in your 20s.

According to cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Michele Green, your rate of cell turnover and collagen production starts to slow down, which is one of the main causes of physical signs of aging.

For individuals with dry skin, a three-step skincare routine includes a daily moisturizer, serum, and eye cream. For individuals with oily skin, traditional anti-aging products can start with people in their 30s and most likely they will be using a retinol product.

Retinol is touted as liquid gold for preventing signs of aging on the skin, but not without some caveats.

While users can reap plenty of benefits from the ingredients’ potency, they are left with redness, irritation, and peeling as common side effects for those with sensitive skin, leading many to skip using retinol in their regimen altogether.

That’s where retinol alternatives, such as the Dermelect Flawless Bakuchiol Treatment, are gaining traction in the skincare industry. 

Derived from the seeds and leaves of the Asian plant Psoralea corylifolia, the ingredient bakuchiol has been coined “nature’s retinol” for a reason: It offers the same age-defying benefits to the skin as retinoids, yet without any of the negative side effects.

The gentle formula reverses signs of aging, sun damage, and congestion by boosting collagen production and strengthening the skin’s barrier function. Alongside the main ingredient bakuchiol, antioxidant-rich botanicals green pea and ginger root improve elasticity on sagging areas of the face and neck, and calm inflammation from pollution.