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Google’s life-extension spinoff teamed up with Ancestry to study 54 million family trees — and learned that a surprising factor helps determine how long we live

Google’s life-extension spinoff teamed up with Ancestry to study 54 million family trees — and learned that a surprising factor helps determine how long we live

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Yulia Mayorova/Shutterstock
  • Genealogy and DNA site Ancestry once partnered with Google’s stealthy life-extension spinoff, a company called Calico, to study the genetics of longevity.
  • The new study suggests that our genes play less of a role in how long we live than previously believed.
  • Instead, traits and behaviors that include everything from diet and exercise to friendliness appear to play a strong role in longevity.
  • But surprisingly, we still pass these traits on through generations – mostly by picking partners who look and act like us, the researchers suggest.

The road to achieving a long life is littered with hype. The usual life-extension suspects include pricey pills and supplements; the peculiar involve infusions of young blood and chambers pumped with sub-zero temperatures.

Then there’s science. And one scientific factor that has long been presumed to dictate much of how long we live is our DNA. For decades, it was assumed that the genes we inherit from our parents explain anywhere from 15% to 30% of the variations in longevity that are observed between people.

But a new study that came from quiet collaboration between genetics company Ancestry and a Google life-extension spinoff called Calico suggests that our genes play less of a role in our lifespan than we thought.

Instead, traits and behaviors that include everything from diet and exercise to friendliness appears to play a strong role in longevity. Surprisingly, we still pass these traits on through generations – mostly by picking partners who look and act like us, the researchers report.

In essence, the findings suggest that people effectively transfer longevity from one generation to the next much in the same way that wealth and socioeconomic status are passed from parents to children: by choosing partners with attitudes and attributes that mirror our own, regardless of how different their DNA may be.

Picking partners who act and think like us

older people

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seyfettin dincturk / Unsplash

For decades, researchers studying longevity and genetics had estimated that the genes we inherit from our parents play a significant role in determining how long we live. Previous studies suggested that genes account for as much as 30% of the total variability in lifespan between individuals.

But the new study from Ancestry and Calico indicates that our DNA may be much less important in determining longevity than traits and behaviors like diet, exercise, and personality. After looking at data from more than 54 million family trees and the birth and death information for over 400 million individuals, the researchers concluded that our DNA accounts for less than 10% of lifespan variability.

Instead, we pass on longevity through generations by choosing partners whose attitudes and attributes look much like our own. In research parlance, that’s known as “assortative mating.”

“The true heritability of human longevity for birth cohorts across the 1800s and early 1900s was well below 10%, and … has been generally overestimated due to the effect of assortative mating,” the scientists wrote.

Put another way, we tend to pick partners with attitudes and attributes – from eating and exercising to friendliness – that mirror our own. And as a result, we tend to live similar amounts of time, and have children who do as well.

How friendly we are and how often we work out may play a stronger role in our longevity than our DNA

woman running jogging exercise

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Shutterstock

Previous studies shed light on how important lifestyle factors are when it comes to how long we live. In a recent study published in the journal Circulation, for example, scientists pinpointed five lifestyle factors that appear to be linked with a significantly longer lifespan, judging by the outcomes of two long-term studies that involved about 123,000 adults.

People in the study who lived long lives tended to:

  • Do at least 30 minutes of cardio exercise every day.
  • Eat a Mediterranean diet.
  • Never smoke.
  • Stick to a healthy body weight.
  • Drink no more than 1-2 alcoholic beverages a day.

As part of several other recent studies, scientists have uncovered a handful of personality traits that also appear to be strongly linked to longer-than-average lives. They include:

Taken together, the findings suggest that how long we live may be less a matter of what we’re born with than the circumstances in which we live and the choices that we make. Those choices, as the Ancestry and Google researchers acknowledge in their new paper, tend to be based on everything from social status to wealth and then, just like genetics, passed on from one generation to the next.

Investors are pouring money into startups that are trying to find a cure for aging

Investors are pouring money into startups that are trying to find a cure for aging

Longevity Fund's Laura Deming

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Longevity Fund’s Laura Deming
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YouTube/Hello Tomorrow
  • A recent report published by CB Insights shows that funding for aging-related companies has far surpassed previous years.
  • It comes at a time where scientists are understanding more about how humans age and how targeting different elements of aging could slow the progression of diseases like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
  • Here are the major venture firms, investors, and pharmaceutical companies putting money into advancing anti-aging research and treatments.

Funding in the anti-aging field is at an all-time high.

Investors have bet $850 million on aging and longevity startups so far this year, according to a recent CB Insights report. There’s been tremendous growth recently. That’s up from $324 million last year, and almost nothing before 2016.

The burgeoning interest in anti-aging treatments has been fueled by growing scientific knowledge about how the aging process works. In fact, in 2013, the journal Cell published a paper that outlined the nine key biologic hallmarks implicated in aging.

Since then, scientists have been working to develop drugs to tackle specific features of aging. Even the National Institutes of Health carved out a department dedicated to aging research. NIH believes that aging is the common factor underlying diseases like Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

By solving aging, scientists could in turn create a universal cure for all of these diseases, the thinking goes.

More funding translates to greater capacity for research and more clinical trials. In 2015, there was a jump in the number of clinical trials targeting aging, and over the last 3 years, that number has held steady around that new high.

clinical trials aging

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CB Insights

A record amount of funding flowed into companies involved in the aging area this year, according to the report. This includes Samumed’s recent fundraising round that raised $438 million. The company wants to use stem cells to regenerate hair, skin, bones, and joints. Their lead product is a treatment for osteoarthritis.

One notable venture capital firm investing in the longevity space is The Longevity Fund headed by 24-year-old Laura Deming, according to the report. It manages $37 million, and to date the the companies it has invested in have gone on to raise a combined $500 million.

Longevity Fund has invested in Unity Biotechnology, which spun out from Mayo Clinic. Its research into a class of drugs called senolytics, which kill off zombie-like pre-cancerous cells that accumulate in aged and damaged tissue, entered human trials in June and has the potential to disrupt multibillion-dollar franchises like AbbVie’s Humira and Amgen’s Enbrel, according to analysts at Citi. Unity is also backed by Jeff Bezos.

funding activity longevity

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CB Insights

Kizoo Technology Ventures has invested in four longevity startups since 2013, according to the report. Of these, a notable one is Elevian, which is also backed by Harvard.

British billionaire Jim Mellon is also a prominent angel investor in aging-related startups, according to CB Insights, backing companies including Juvenescence, Insilico Medicine, and AgeX Therapeutics.

Of the major pharmaceutical companies, Novartis and Celgene are the two main ones investing in aging research.

Novartis recently conducted a study on a drug similar to rapamycin, to see how it affected elderly patients’ immune response and risk for infection. The results showed that the patients’ rate of respiratory infections went down by more than 65% during winter cold and flu season. The research and the subsequent drugs are being developed by spin-off company resTORbio, in which Novartis has a 15% stake.

Celgene also had a spin-off of its own: Celularity, which wants to use placental stem cells to promote longevity and treat conditions like cancer and autoimmune disease. The startup raised $250 million in February.

See more coverage from the anti-aging arena:

Samumed, a $12 billion startup that wants to cure baldness and smooth out your wrinkles, just released promising data on its lead drug to treat osteoarthritis

Samumed, a $12 billion startup that wants to cure baldness and smooth out your wrinkles, just released promising data on its lead drug to treat osteoarthritis

Samumed CEO Osman Kibar, CFO Cevdet Samikoglu, and chief medical officer Yusuf Yazici

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Samumed CEO Osman Kibar, CFO Cevdet Samikoglu, and chief medical officer Yusuf Yazici
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Diana Yukari/Business Insider; photos courtesy Samumed
  • $12 billion biotech Samumed on Wednesday is presenting data from a clinical trial looking at how one of its lead drugs works in patients with osteoarthritis.
  • The results, which Samumed plans to use to inform its phase 3 trial it plans to start next year, show that the company’s drug worked in two doses to reduce pain and increase function in patients with osteoarthritis, a common form of arthritis in which cartilage wears down over time.
  • The company is also planning additional mid-stage trials to get a better sense of how the drug might protect or regenerate cartilage, and what effects it might have on bone health.

Samumed, a San Diego-based biotech that’s one of the highest valued healthcare startups in the US with a $12 billion valuation, just presented new data on one of its lead programs.

The drug is a treatment for osteoarthritis, a common form of arthritis in which cartilage wears down over time.

It’s part of Samumed’s pipeline of what could be revolutionary treatments to regenerate hair, skin, bones, and joints.

The company found that the treatment managed to reduce pain and improve function in the treated knees, at two of the four doses it tested, according to a presentation its scheduled to give Wednesday at the American College of Rheumatology’s annual meeting. The phase 2b trial looked at 700 patients who were given either the drug injected once into the knee, or were given a placebo treatment.

At the six-month mark, the patients who received the drug didn’t have any improvement in their medial joint space width, a measure of how much cartilage is between the bones surrounding the knee, when compared to those who received the placebo.

That’s a departure from what the company saw in its phase 2a trial, which looked at the effects of the drug over a full year. In that study, the company saw an improvement in medial joint space width compared to placebo in the subgroup that had received the .07 mg dose. Samumed Chief Medical Officer Yusuf Yazici told Business Insider that the six-month cut-off was too early to see a difference on an X-Ray. Samumed said Wednesday that it plans to move into two phase 3 clinical trials in 2019 at the .07 mg dose, which could set the company up for an approval from the FDA if the trial shows the drug works at reducing pain, improving knee function, and having an impact on how the disease is progressing. Yazici said the company is also planning on running two smaller trials aimed at getting a better picture through MRIs of the drug’s effects on cartilage – is it protecting or regenerating the cartilage – as well as making sure the drug isn’t hurting patients’ bone health.

Phase 2 trials are used to determine which dose of a particular medication might work best to test in a larger phase 3 trial. At that point, the drug company is looking to make sure the drug works the way it’s intended to, which it can then present to the FDA for a potential approval.

Samumed’s approach

The company’s pipeline contains a number of experimental treatments that offer the promise of reversing conditions related to aging by regrowing hair on balding heads, smoothing out wrinkles, and regenerating cartilage to worn-down joints in people with osteoarthritis.

That happens through technology that targets certain proteins that scientists think play a critical role in the development and renewal of stem cells, which give rise to other types of specialized cells, from eye cells to skin and hair cells.

Your body is equipped with something called progenitor stem cells. These cells are in charge of repairing and replenishing specific organs in the body. For example, a mesenchymal stem cell of the osteoblast lineage can go in and repair bone that’s damaged. That process has something to do with the WNT pathway, a set of proteins that tell these stem cells to spring into action.

“By dialing up or down various WNT genes or WNT processes, you can trigger any one of these progenitor stem cells down a certain lineage,” Kibar told Business Insider in 2017.

As we get older, our WNT levels start to get out of balance, Kibar said. Take the example of mesenchymal stem cells. “If the WNT activity levels can no longer increase such that it’s not making enough bone, now you develop osteoporosis.”

What Samumed hopes to do is manipulate the pathway that makes these progenitor stem cells spring into action, so that they don’t cause these diseases.

See also:

‘There is no reality here’: Researchers whose work inspired a startup to charge $8,000 to fill patients’ veins with young blood say it’s putting lives at risk

‘There is no reality here’: Researchers whose work inspired a startup to charge $8,000 to fill patients’ veins with young blood say it’s putting lives at risk

A bag of red blood cells.

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A bag of red blood cells.
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Joern Pollex/Getty Images
  • A startup called Ambrosia Medical that charges $8,000 to fill your veins with the blood of young people plans to launch its first clinic in New York City at the end of this year.
  • Researchers who study blood transfusions called the procedure “dangerous” and said the idea behind it is based on “incorrect interpretations” of their work.
  • Founded by Stanford graduate Jesse Karmazin, the company recently completed the first clinical trial designed to assess the benefits of young blood transfusions. Those results have not been published.

Does young blood hold the keys to a long and healthy life? Startup founder and and Stanford Medical graduate Jesse Karmazin believes it might, so he launched a startup called Ambrosia Medical that fills older people’s veins with fresh blood from young donors.

But researchers who study the procedure say it poses major risks for patients, including an elevated risk of developing several serious conditions later in life, such as graft-versus-host disease, which can occur when transfused blood cells attack the patient’s own cells, and transfusion-associated lung injury.

Irina and Michael Conboy, two University of California at Berkeley researchers who’ve published research on young blood transfusions in mice, called Ambrosia’s plans “dangerous.”

“They quite likely could inflict bodily harm,” Irina Conboy told Business Insider.

The Conboys’ concern stems from an awareness of what happens in the body when it receives foreign blood from a donor.

“It is well known in the medical community – and this is also the reason we don’t do transfusions frequently – that in 50% of patients there are very bad side effects. You are being infused with somebody else’s blood and it doesn’t match,” Conboy said. “That unleashes a strong immune reaction.”

Karmazin told Business Insider that the Conboys’ statements “are not supported by data or clinical experience.”

“Millions of plasma transfusions are performed safely in the US each year and the FDA monitors the safety of the blood supply and transfusions closely. We agree with the Conboys that exposure to young plasma has potential beneficial effects. Further research in this field at Stanford and Harvard, amongst other institutions, indicates that ‘blood dilution’ is not responsible for the observed effects, so it is not clear what the basis for that statement is.”

The first clinical trial of its kind

blood

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Getty Images/Joern Pollex

In 2017, Ambrosia enrolled people in the first US clinical trial designed to find out what happens when the veins of adults are filled with blood from the young.

While the results of that study have not yet been made public, Karmazin told Business Insider the results were “really positive.”

Because blood transfusions are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Ambrosia’s approach has the green-light to continue as an off-label treatment. There appears to be significant interest: since putting up its website last week, the company has received roughly 100 inquiries about how to get the treatment, David Cavalier, Ambrosia’s chief operating officer, told Business Insider. That led to the creation of the company’s first waiting list, Cavalier said.

“So many people were reaching out to us that we wanted to make a simple way for them to be added to the list,” Cavalier said.

With that in mind, Cavalier and Karmazin are currently scouting a number of potential clinic locations in New York City and organizing talks with potential investors. They hope to open the facility by the end of this year.

“New York would be the flagship location,” Karmazin said.

Blood tranfusions are already approved by federal regulators, so Ambrosia does not need to demonstrate that its treatment carries significant benefits before offering it to customers.

So far, the company has already infused close to 150 patients ranging in age from 35 to 92 with the blood of young donors, Cavalier said. Of those, 81 were participants in their clinical trial.

The trial, which involved giving patients 1.5 liters of plasma from a donor between the ages of 16 and 25 over two days, was conducted with physician David Wright, who owns a private intravenous-therapy center in Monterey, California. Before and after the infusions, participants’ blood was tested for a handful of biomarkers, or measurable biological substances and processes that are thought to provide a snapshot of health and disease.

People in the trial paid $8,000 to participate. The company hasn’t settled on a commercial pricetag for the procedure, Karmazin said.

Young blood and anti-aging: ‘There’s no reality here’

Conboy’s research was one of a handful of studies that initially inspired Karmazin to pursue young blood transfusions for anti-aging benefits.

But she told Business Insider that Karmazin’s work was based on an “incorrect interpretation.”

“Not only is it incorrect, it’s dangerous,” Conboy said.

In 2005, Conboy pioneered a study using parabiosis, a 150-year-old surgical technique that connects the veins of two living animals, to see whether the blood from a younger mouse could have benefits on an older mouse.

And while she did observe some benefits as a result of the procedure, she pointed out to Business Insider that the animals weren’t simply swapping blood – the older rodent was also reaping the benefits of the younger one’s more vibrant internal organs and circulatory system too. Conboy believes that – not the young blood itself – is likely what accounted for the positive effects she saw.

“When old and young mice are sutured together they share organs too – including their kidneys and all the important filtering organs,” Conboy told Business Insider. “Imagine you had a new liver. You’d probably see benefits too.”

Conboy followed up that work with a more recent study in 2016 to see what would happen if she merely exchanged the rodents’ blood without connecting their bodies in any way. She found that while the muscle tissue in the older mice appeared to benefit slightly from the younger blood, they still couldn’t say for sure that these modest benefits were coming from the young blood itself. After all, the experiment had also fundamentally changed the older mouse blood by diluting it.

“Something about the old blood seemed to be having a negative effect, yes, but young blood was not capable of rejuvenation,” Conboy said.

Michael Conboy said part of the problem is simply the fact that there’s too much old blood for the young blood to have a substantial effect on its own.

“Is there really something in the young blood that would override all the negative effects from the old blood?” Conboy said. “Until someone repeats that I’m not sure that I believe it. Even scientists with the best of intentions can observe something that’s a fluke.”

Meanwhile, the Conboys said there are substantial risks with giving older people the young blood of donors. Those include a heightened immune response which is triggered with increasing magnitude every time the procedure is completed.

A 2012 study published in the journal Transfusion outlines the risks of blood transfusions and includes these risks, as does published work from the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

“Every time you do it you’re magnifying your immune response,” Michael Conboy said. “Reputable physicians who do this for life-threatening conditions know this risk.”

A controversial startup that charges $8,000 to fill your veins with young blood is opening its first clinic

A controversial startup that charges $8,000 to fill your veins with young blood is opening its first clinic

source
Getty Images/Joern Pollex
  • A startup called Ambrosia Medical that charges $8,000 to fill your veins with the blood of young people plans to launch its first clinic in New York City at the end of this year.
  • Founded by Stanford graduate Jesse Karmazin, the company recently completed the first clinical trial designed to assess the benefits of young blood transfusions.
  • Although his team has not yet published the results of the trial, Karmazin said the results were “really positive.”

To startup founder and Stanford Medical graduate Jesse Karmazin, blood is the next big government-approved drug.

Karmazin recently launched Ambrosia Medical – a startup that fills the veins of older people with fresh blood from young donors – in the hopes that the procedure will help conquer aging by rejuvenating the body’s organs. The company plans to open its first clinic in New York City by the end of this year, Karmazin told Business Insider.

In 2017, Ambrosia enrolled people in the first US clinical trial designed to find out what happens when the veins of adults are filled with blood from the young.

While the results of that study have not yet been made public, Karmazin told Business Insider the results were “really positive.”

Because blood transfusions are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Ambrosia’s approach has the green-light to continue as an off-label treatment. There appears to be significant interest: since putting up its website last week, the company has received roughly 100 inquiries about how to get the treatment, David Cavalier, Ambrosia’s chief operating officer, told Business Insider. That led to the creation of the company’s first waiting list, Cavalier said.

“So many people were reaching out to us that we wanted to make a simple way for them to be added to the list,” Cavalier said.

With that in mind, Cavalier and Karmazin are currently scouting a number of potential clinic locations in New York City and organizing talks with potential investors. They hope to open the facility by the end of this year.

“New York would be the flagship location,” Karmazin said.

The first clinical trial of its kind

A bag of red blood cells.

caption
A bag of red blood cells.
source
Joern Pollex/Getty Images

Because blood tranfusions are already approved by federal regulators, Ambrosia does not need to demonstrate that its treatment carries significant benefits before offering it to customers.

So far, the company has already infused close to 150 patients ranging in age from 35 to 92 with the blood of young donors, Cavalier said. Of those, 81 were participants in their clinical trial.

The trial, which involved giving patients 1.5 liters of plasma from a donor between the ages of 16 and 25 over two days, was conducted with physician David Wright, who owns a private intravenous-therapy center in Monterey, California. Before and after the infusions, participants’ blood was tested for a handful of biomarkers, or measurable biological substances and processes that are thought to provide a snapshot of health and disease.

People in the trial paid $8,000 to participate. The company hasn’t settled on a commercial pricetag for the procedure, Karmazin said.

“The trial was an investigational study. We saw some interesting things and we do plan to publish that data. And we want to begin to open clinics where the treatment will be made available,” Cavalier said.

Karmazin added that the trial showed the treatment to be very safe.

“The safety profile was essentially perfect, or as good as plasma transfusions are,” Karmazin said.

Young blood and anti-aging: Are there any benefits?

Karmazin is right about the safety of blood transfusions and their capacity to save lives.

A simple blood transfusion, which involves hooking up an IV and pumping the plasma of a healthy person into the veins of someone who’s undergone surgery or been in a car crash, for example, is one of the safest life-saving procedures available. Every year in the US, nurses perform about 14.6 million of them, which means about 40,000 blood transfusions happen on any given day.

But as far as young blood is concerned – and its alleged potential to fight aging – the science remains unclear.

“There’s just no clinical evidence [that the treatment will be beneficial], and you’re basically abusing people’s trust and the public excitement around this,” Stanford University neuroscientist Tony Wyss-Coray, who led a 2014 study of young plasma in mice, recently told Science magazine.

Karmazin is still optimistic. He got the idea for his company as a medical student at Stanford and an intern at the National Institute on Aging, where he watched dozens of traditional blood transfusions performed safely.

“Some patients got young blood and others got older blood, and I was able to do some statistics on it, and the results looked really awesome,” Karmazin told Business Insider last year. “And I thought, this is the kind of therapy that I’d want to be available to me.”

So far, no one knows if young blood transfusions can be reliably linked to a single health benefit in people.

Karmazin said “many” of the roughly 150 people who’ve received the treatment have noted benefits that include renewed focus, better memory and sleep, and improved appearance and muscle tone.

But it’s tough to quantify these benefits before the study findings are made public. There’s also the possibility that simply traveling to a lab in Monterey and paying to enroll in the study could have made patients feel better.

Studies in mice don’t necessarily translate to results in people

Karmazin was inspired to create his blood infusion treatment after seeing seeing several mouse studies that involve parabiosis, a 150-year-old surgical technique that connects the veins of two living animals. (The word comes from the Greek words para, or “beside,” and bio, or “life.”)

Irina Conboy, a bioengineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley who pioneered one of these parabiosis studies in mice in 2005, found evidence that the exchange had done something positive for the health of the older mouse who received the blood of the younger mouse. But the animals weren’t simply swapping blood – the older rodent was also reaping the benefits of the younger one’s more vibrant internal organs and circulatory system.

In other words, the researchers couldn’t say for sure whether it was the blood itself that was doing the apparent reviving or if the fact that the animals were linked in other ways was responsible for those perceived benefits.

In 2016, Conboy and her team ran another study to see what would happen if they merely exchanged the rodents’ blood without connecting their bodies in any way. They found that while the muscle tissue in the older mice appeared to benefit slightly from the younger blood, they still couldn’t say for sure that these modest benefits were coming from the young blood itself. After all, the experiment had also fundamentally changed the older mouse blood by diluting it.

“The effects of young blood on old tissue seems to be rejuvenating; however, there is no concrete evidence that young blood is what is causing the change in results. It may very well be the dilution of old blood,” Ranveer Gathwala, a UC Berkeley stem-cell researcher in Conboy’s lab who co-authored the 2016 paper, previously told Business Insider.

Nevertheless, Karmazin remains hopeful that the benefits he said he’s witnessing are the result of young blood transfusions.

“I’m really happy with the results we’re seeing,” he said.

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