Harvard geneticist Dr. George Church is “turning on” youth-promoting genes. In this exclusive interview Dr. Church explains how he expects to achieve human age reversal in the foreseeable future.
Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Amanda Martin, DC, on August 2020. Written By Dr. Shelly Xuelai Fan.
I first described the work of Harvard geneticist George Church in 2015.
Dr. Church predicted that human aging could be eradicated by the year 2030.
Many of our advisors concurred.
The therapy that aims to reverse aging in people involves gene modification at the cellular level.
On December 8, 2019, CBS News 60 Minutes reported on Dr. Church’s pioneering research that aims to make humans immune from all viruses and reverse biological aging.
This 60 Minutes broadcast represents a transformational tipping point as it relates to the concept of human age reversal. Until recent years, no one thought that old people could grow biologically younger.
To view the 60 Minutes program, visit www.LifeExtension.com/60minutes
This website enables you to view the 60 Minutes segment about Dr. Church’s age reversal research.
It provides a link to subscribe to CBS All Access with a free 7-day trial available.
The following excerpt from Dr. Church’s 60 Minutes interview (© CBS NEWS) is an example of how the mainstream is embracing the science of age reversal:
Scott Pelley: One of the things your lab is working on is reversing aging.
Dr. Church: That’s right.
Scott Pelley: How is that possible?
Dr. Church: Reversing aging is one of these things that is easy to dismiss to say either we don’t need it or is impossible or both.
Bill Faloon: Dr. Church expected the typical inane question as to why we want to reverse aging. Look at Scott Pelley’s reply:
Scott Pelley: Oh, we need it.
Bill Faloon: Scott Pelley clearly states, “we need to reverse it,” i.e. aging. This succinct answer represents a gigantic leap forward in the mainstream’s view on aging research.
Dr. Church: Okay. We need it. That’s good. We can agree on that. Well, aging reversal is something that’s been proven about eight different ways in animals where you can get, you know, faster reaction times or, you know, cognitive or repair of damaged tissues.
Scott Pelley: Proven eight different ways. Why isn’t this available?
Dr. Church: It is available to mice.
Scott Pelley (voiceover): In lucky mice, Dr. Church’s lab added multiple genes that improved heart and kidney function and levels of blood sugar. Now he’s trying it in spaniels.
Scott Pelley: So is this gene editing to achieve age reversal?
Dr. Church: This is adding genes. So, it’s not really editing genes. It’s, the gene function is going down, and so we’re boosting it back up by putting in extra copies of the genes.
Scott Pelley: What’s the time horizon on age reversal in humans?
Dr. Church: That’s in clinical trials right now in dogs. And so that veterinary product might be a couple years away and then that takes another 10 years to get through the human clinical trials.
The dilemma is that some of us will not be alive in the year 2030.
This is why current age-delay protocols are so critical, in addition to everything else we do to reduce degenerative disease risks.
Not only may George Church’s gene therapy reverse aging, but in the process, it will likely shield all our cells from viral infections.
The evidence also points to gene therapy as becoming a virtual universal treatment for all diseases, including cancer.
Think of how healthy most of us were in youth. Everything seemed to work well until around age 35-50.
Imagine going back to the biological age of 25 and staying there. If you wonder why I have not taken a day off since learning about George Church, it’s to identify methods to stay alive until the time when aging becomes a relic of the past, just as smallpox is today.
On the next page is an exclusive interview conducted by Dr. Shelly Xuelai Fan for Life Extension® magazine. In this interview, Dr. Church discusses the promise of gene therapy in reversing the aging process. We’ve condensed the conversation for our readers.
Reversing aging was considered impossible until recently.
But renowned scientist Dr. George Church says it’s within our reach.
And he envisions a time when a few shots of his gene therapy cocktail will slow, or even reverse the aging process.
An “anti-aging vaccine” may sound like science fiction. But if anyone can make it a reality, it’s Dr. Church.
A professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Church is a master at manipulating genes, the instructions that build life, that are tucked inside every cell.
He helped improve the quality and cost of whole genome sequencing by a million-fold, and he’s one of the scientists responsible for developing the breakthrough gene editing tool CRISPR.
His company, Rejuvenate Bio, doesn’t focus on editing genes themselves. It focuses on the expression of genes, turning them “on” or “off.”
As we age, genes that promote youthful functions shut off. If we can switch these genes on again, the negative consequences of aging can be counteracted as our biological clocks are turned back.
The idea has proven successful in mice with different age-related disorders. Dr. Church is now pursuing the rejuvenation treatment in aging dogs.
If all goes well, human trials will follow.
LE: Most scientists focusing on “life extension” are either trying to increase lifespan, the length of life, or healthspan, the years someone is healthy. Which are you focusing on?
Dr. Church: I would add another one, “aging reversal.” This is a bit different than extending lifespan or healthspan. Anything with “span” in it refers to a long period of time, projecting if you will still be healthy 20 years from now. With aging reversal, you can see in a few weeks if the therapy is working. You can measure biomarkers at a doctor’s office. But more importantly, you can see it in the things you care about, such as strength, mobility, and the healing of damaged tissue and organs. Aging reversal is what we’re focusing on. The therapies are easier to get approved by the FDA, and it’s fundamentally what everyone wants.
LE: How can genes slow down aging or reverse age-related damage?
Dr. Church: We’re talking about epigenetics, changing how genes work throughout the body. It’s not about changing the code of your genes, just how they’re expressed [turned on or off]. As you get older, the level of key genes that help maintain life decline in how much they’re turned on. You want to boost them back up. So what we’re tinkering with using gene therapy isn’t “genetic.” We’re not changing the genes, but rather focusing on turning youth-boosting genes back on.
LE: How has your anti-aging gene therapy worked so far?
Dr. Church: We’re looking at both specific diseases and overall health. The traditional method is to fix one symptom of one disease. But you can also get at the core causes of aging, the hormones that are dropping. If you boost these up enough, they’ll reinforce each other in a positive, virtuous cycle. If we see enough positive changes with a particular gene therapy, we know we hit one of the core causes.
In our first study, we took three genes that impacted five different age-related diseases and changed their levels in mature mice and found that they functionally improved. This is key: Biomarker improvements are great, but you want to see improvements that impact everyday life, like strength, speed, and organ health.
LE: What are the next steps in this research, and who do you think would benefit most from the gene therapy?
Dr. Church: We’ve already begun clinical trials in aged dogs, which are good models for humans. This will help us determine which ages of humans would best benefit, but we think we’ll be able to help people who are already quite old and show signs of decline. We’re also looking at extending absolute lifespan, but it’s a much longer experiment and reliable results take years.
In the near term, we’re also looking to expand the group of age-related diseases that we can treat. With the three genes we’ve been testing, we’ve already helped reverse osteoarthritis, high-fat obesity and diabetes, heart damage, and kidney disease. We’re hoping to soon add cancer and neurodegenerative diseases to the list.
LE: Which diseases do you think we’ll see gene therapy impact first?
Dr. Church: If our idea is correct, we should be able to impact all of them at the same time when we target the core causes of aging. When you’re rejuvenating cells, you’re also boosting all their repair mechanisms. It’s possible that certain negative biological changes are rather permanent and hard to restore, but they would be incredibly drastic. The challenge for the near future is using artificial intelligence to design “delivery shuttles” that carry gene therapy where you want it to go. But if we can convince the cells that they’re young by giving them a dose of youth-promoting genes, their own repair factory should kick in and restore lots of damage from aging.
Trying to convince every cell in the body is very difficult. Some life-extending, non-gene therapies are trying. We believe that youth-promoting hormones and other biological factors shared from cell to cell hold the key.
Using gene therapy, even if we hit just a few cells, they’ll amp up hormone production, diffuse them throughout the body, and immediately amplify the gene therapy’s initial effect.
LE: You helped develop CRISPR, which does alter gene sequences. That’s not part of your age-reversal research?
Dr. Church: We did not use CRISPR, even though we helped initiate it as a technology. We need to distinguish between CRISPR and gene therapy, which aren’t synonymous. CRISPR is mostly used to eliminate or turn down genes and functionality. Classic gene therapy is adding or boosting genes. At Rejuvenate Bio, our focus is on the latter.
LE: Many age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer are due to faulty genes. In those cases, is it possible to use CRISPR to correct those genes and extend life?
Dr. Church: Yes. We need to cast a wide net. There’s a gene therapy trial for Alzheimer’s that replaces APOE4, a gene that greatly increases your chance of Alzheimer’s, with the lower-risk version, APOE2. But to make the gene therapy work, you’ll need to go into many brain cells and swap the gene out with high efficiency, and that’s hard but improving rapidly.
In mice, manipulating tumor suppressor genes plus targeting telomeres, [the protective end caps of genes that shorten with age] which APOE does, can delay cancer and aging.
Unlike APOE, we are aiming for more than a single rare disease, and unlike the telomere strategy, we don’t need to target every cell because the genes we’re manipulating make “regulatory factors,” like hormones, which diffuse out and impact far more than just the cell that gets the gene therapy. This amplifies the effect of the treatment: One dose can hit just a few cells and you could be set for years.
We’re focused on boosting pro-youth hormones and enzymes that spread in the body. We think this is most promising, and hence the strategy we’re pursuing.
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Dr. Shelly Xuelai Fan is a science journalist based in San Francisco. She completed her PhD and post-doctoral training in neurodegeneration, brain aging, and rejuvenation.
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