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Harvard Medical School start-up is working to reverse aging in dogs and, eventually, humans


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: May 16th, 2018

A start-up from the Harvard Medical School is attempting to use gene therapy to reverse aging in dogs — and eventually humans.

Rejuvenate Bio has carried out preliminary tests on beagles, adding new DNA instructions to their bodies in hopes that it can increase their life spans by double or better. Although the start-up plans to try the technology on humans eventually, co-founder and world-renowned synthetic biologist George Church doesn’t see that as necessary for market success.

“Dogs are a market in and of themselves,” he says. “It’s not just a big organism close to humans. It’s something people will pay for, and the FDA process is much faster. We’ll do dog trials, and that’ll be a product, and that’ll pay for scaling up in human trials.”

Rejuvenate Bio has secured a grant from the U.S. Special Operations Command to investigate ways to “enhance” military dogs. It has also been in talks with dog breeders, ethicists and veterinarians about its ideas for restoring youth. The strategy is to get a strong hold on the pet market, where Americans spend $20 billion each year on vet bills alone, before moving onto humans.

Rejuvenate Bio hasn’t released much information on what its technology involves or the results of its lab testing. While some in the pet industry have showered the start-up with praise and fundraising, others have approached it with skepticism. Rod Russell, editor of the website CavalierHealth.org, says the technology is “pure hype,” claiming that there is “absolutely no evidence” that a drug could possibly make dogs younger.

“No one would be naïve enough to contribute money on a promise that this treatment will make their Cavaliers younger,” says Russell. “Or would they?”

Rejuvenate Bio sat for a roundtable discussion in New Haven last September with philosophers and ethicists, who raised some potential dilemmas. For example, the treatment might lead dogs to outlive their owners and end up in shelters or euthanized. And then there are the experiments themselves.

“When you do these genetic modifications, there are many cases where it doesn’t work as you intend,” says University of Washington researcher Matt Kaeberlein. “What do you do with the dogs in which the treatment fails?”

Some scientists see the ability to extend the lifespan through biotech advances as an inevitability. And David Sinclair, a Harvard research and Church collaborator, is one of them. The prolongation of human lifespan, he asserts, is “the biggest thing that is going to happen in the 21st century. It’s going to make what Elon Musk is doing look fairly pedestrian.”

Source: MIT Technology Review

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