The Quest for Eternal Youth: All About Altos Labs

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The quest for eternal youth is nearly as old as the concept of aging itself. Humans have obsessed, for thousands of years, over how to maintain their health, persevere their consciousness, and in essence, eliminate death itself.

With biology and technology, and the combination of the two worlds — biotechnology — advancing at an incredibly rapid pace, it isn’t hard to imagine that we will soon live in a world without aging. And one of the most prominent recent efforts to achieve this goal is Altos Labs.

This new company has many distinguished scientists on the team from the founder being a former director of the National Cancer Institute of the United States to the scientific team and board including two recent Nobel laureates. Plus, it has been reported that investors include who was once the richest man in the world and the former CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos.

But what is it exactly that all of these important people are betting on? Cellular rejuvenation reprogramming.

What is Cellular Rejuvenation & How Does it Relate to Aging?

As Altos Labs puts it, their aim is to use “cellular rejuvenation programming to restore cell health and resilience, with the goal of reversing disease to transform medicine.” Though they don’t often use the word aging in their marketing materials, the topics of cellular rejuvenation and aging are closely related.

After decades of research, some scientists have distilled the factors of aging into nine hallmarks. However, science is often not so neat. The factors intertwine and overlap in several places, but the hallmarks remain an incredibly useful tool. In the case of Altos Labs and cellular rejuvenation, they are targeting one main hallmark: epigenetic alterations.

As you likely know, all the cells in one’s body contain DNA or genetic information. This is the instruction manual that gives orders for the cell to build the necessary proteins. But it is not as simple as that. All cells contain the exact same DNA. How is it, then, that one’s liver cells perform a very different function than one’s skin cells? The answer is epigenetics.

Not all genes — sections of the DNA coding for certain proteins — are being used by the cell at all times. Sometimes, they are temporarily turned off and other times, they are turned off nearly permanently, depending on the type of cell. This is called epigenetics. Unfortunately, over time, the body loses its ability to maintain proper epigenetic regulation. This is part of the reason for aging and what Altos Labs is targeting.

Image by author.

Cellular rejuvenation reprogramming, or more simply reprogramming, seeks to reverse negative epigenetic alterations that come with aging. In 2012, Shinya Yamanaka — who is also the Senior Scientific Advisor at Altos Labs — co-discovered four factors that, when added to cells, reverted them to a “younger” state. These four factors are now commonly referred to as the Yamanaka factors. The reprogramming technology was at first, and continues to be used, in stem cell research. But now, it is also finding its place in aging research.

Recent studies in mice, such as a prominent one from the Salk Institute the senior author of which is involved with Altos, have found that using the Yamanaka factors to reprogram the cells of a live mouse has led to fewer aging-related issues. These include “reduced expression of genes involved in the inflammation […] and stress response pathways.”

One concern that remains with using the Yamanaka factors in live animals is cancer. Though the Salk study found no cancerous or adverse effects after reprogramming, these factors are very powerful and do have the potential to cause cancer per previous studies. This is critical to keep in mind as this technology moves closer and closer towards clinical trials.

Beyond the Science

Altos Labs has been very quiet about its operations and research as of the writing of this article. It is clear that their staff includes phenomenal scientists with outstanding achievements and expertise.

Bringing fantastic scientists together in one place often results in great results. But another advantage of a company like Altos Labs over academic institutes is funding. Per Crunchbase, Altos has raised $270 million so far, an amount of money that scientists in academia, unfortunately, don’t often get access to.

There are also many other companies seeking to accelerate anti-aging research and therapeutics, such as Genentech (a pharmaceutical company also focused on other medical advances), Retro Bio, and YouthBio Therapeutics.

Previous well-backed ventures into anti-aging research have not always done incredibly well, such as the Google-supported Calico. But many are hopeful about Altos Labs. With an interesting goal, an incredible staff, and plenty of funding, it is difficult not to root for Altos.

About the Author

Parmin Sedigh is a 16-year-old stem cell and science communications enthusiast as well as a student researcher, based in Kingston, ON. She’s also the Director of Writing at Superposition. You can usually find her on her computer following her curiosity. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Ontario Youth Medical Society

Ontario Youth Medical Society

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Ontario Youth Medical Society is a student-led, non-profit organization focused on educating youth and making a difference in medicine.