For a pricey one million dollars, one can reverse the ageing clock and become young again, an American company has claimed on its website.
This is the promise of an American biotech company, Libella Gene Therapeutics, based in Kansas, which proclaims on its website, The Future is here.
It is set to launch clinical trials in Colombia to test a new therapy designed to reverse the ageing process, and in turn, treat age-related diseases.
According to a report by OneZero, a Medium publication about tech and science, to steal a sip from this purported fountain of youth, participants in the trial must first fork over $1 million — a fee that seems even more astronomical when you consider that most clinical trials are either free or provide participants with financial compensation.
The company announced its intention to test its anti-aging remedies in Cartagena, Colombia, in 2018, and began recruiting for the trials in October of this year.
Using a single-gene therapy, Libella aims to “prevent, delay, or even reverse” the general effects of ageing, as well as treat diseases that emerge in old age, such as Alzheimer’s, according to ClinicalTrials.gov.
In fact, in its own press release, the company boasted, without evidence, that its gene therapy “may be the world’s first cure for Alzheimer’s disease.”
The bold claim raises an obvious question: Will the treatment actually work?
Short answer: No one really knows, but the fact that Libella shipped its operation beyond the reach of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t inspire confidence, experts told OneZero.
A cure for ageing?
Unlike anti-ageing face creams that soften the superficial signs of ageing, the Libella therapy aims to reverse ageing from the ground up, so to speak, starting at the level of our genes.
Specifically, the gene therapy is intended to lengthen patients’ telomeres — structures that cap the tips of chromosomes and prevent the genetic material inside from fraying. Telomeres grow shorter each time a cell divides, and when the structures reach a critical length, cells either stop dividing or perish, according to Stanford Medicine.
The theory goes, if you rebuild the body’s shortened telomeres, the process of ageing might be thrown in reverse. This is not a new idea. Several studies in mice suggest that using gene therapy to lengthen telomeres can reverse certain signs of ageing in the animals. A 2015 study from Stanford prompted similar effects in isolated human cells; the treatment lengthened cells’ telomeres by fiddling with a close cousin of DNA, called RNA, which helps cells build proteins.
The Libella therapy aims to help cells rebuild telomeres by activating a gene in their DNA that would normally be switched “off.” The gene, called TERT, contains instructions to build a protein called “telomerase,” an enzyme that adds molecules to the end of telomeres and prevents the structures from shortening during cell replication, according to a 2010 report in the journal Biochemistry.
Libella’s lead scientific officer, molecular biologist William Andrews, originally helped identify the human telomerase enzyme at the biotech firm Geron. Later, he licensed a gene therapy based on the finding to Libella, according to OneZero. “I can’t say [telomere shortening is] the only cause of aging, but it plays a role in humans,” Andrews told the publication.
Andrews’ therapies will soon be put to the test in Colombia, where one 79-year-old will receive the anti-aging treatment next month, according to OneZero.
The anti-aging trial will include four more participants over age 45 and focus on verifying that the treatment is “safe and tolerable,” meaning it does not harm patients or cause unacceptable side effects.
Two more trials will use the same therapy but aim to “prevent, delay, or even reverse the development” of Alzheimer’s disease and critical limb ischemia, an age-related condition in which a person’s arteries become severely obstructed. Participants in these trials must already be diagnosed with the disorders.