Monday, January 19, 2015

Silicon Valley Seeks Cure For Ageing

A growing number of initiatives around the world are on the hunt for a way to help us extend our lives and maybe even live forever!
Credit; ©Thinkstock

The quest for the elixir of life, the fountain of youth, the immortal pool of nectar has tormented alchemists and scientists throughout the ages. Can we live forever? The tech entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley are on a mission to find out.

The Guardian reports this week on hedge fund manager Joon Yun’s Palo Alto Longevity Prize which sets the epic task of ‘hacking the code of life and curing ageing’.

So far, 15 scientific teams have entered the EUR 850 000 ($1 million) life science competition prize. Next Big Future reports that a EUR 425 000 ($500 000) Homeostatic Capacity Prize will be awarded to the first team to demonstrate that it can restore homeostatic capacity (using heart rate variability as the surrogate measure) of an ageing reference mammal to that of a young adult.

Another EUR 425 000 ($500 000) Longevity Demonstration Prize will be awarded to the first team that can extend the lifespan of its reference mammal by 50 % of acceptable published norms. Demonstration must use an approach that restores homeostatic capacity to increase lifespan.

According to Next Big Future, in addition to the $1 million cash prize, the Palo Alto Prize is also working with a number of angel investors, venture capital firms, corporate venture arms, institutions and private foundations to provide access to additional capital to the teams during the competition.

The Guardian notes that Yun, who is spearheading the initiative, names it as a moral rather than personal quest, and that the prize is being supported by an impressive list of nearly 50 advisers, including scientists from some of America’s top universities. Yun’s prize is not alone in its quest to capture the secret of immortality. The organisers name it as ‘one of a growing number of initiatives around the world pursuing this goal’. They add, ‘Through an incentive prize, our specific aim is to nurture innovations that end aging by restoring the body’s homeostatic capacity and promoting the extension of a sustained and healthy lifespan’.

Also in the race to extend our time on Earth is Google’s Calico company (the California Life Company). Its mission is to reverse engineer the biology that controls lifespan. According to the Guardian, in April 2014 Calico recruited Cynthia Kenyon, ‘a scientist acclaimed for work that included genetically engineering roundworms to live up to six times longer than normal, and who has spoken of dreaming of applying her discoveries to people’.

The Guardian also reports on the Human Longevity Inc (HLI) which says it is building the world’s most comprehensive database on human genotypes and phenotypes to tackle the diseases associated with aging-related human biological decline. According to HLI, it will use its ‘core areas of expertise’ – genomics, informatics, and stem cell therapies – to change the way medicine is practiced by furthering the shift to a preventive, genomic-based medicine model.

We probably all want to ensure healthier and more comfortable lives into our old age. But do we want to ‘cure ageing’ and live forever, and is it really possible? Time will tell all.

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