Scientists Dodge FDA to Offer a $1 Million Anti-Aging Treatment in Colombia
The unproven gene therapy aims to lengthen a person’s telomeres
Would you pay $1 million and fly to South America for a chance to live longer?
Libella Gene Therapeutics, a Kansas-based company that says it is developing a gene therapy that can reverse aging by up to 20 years, is hoping your answer is yes. In an interview with OneZero, the company says it is ready to give an experimental anti-aging therapy to older people at a clinic north of Bogota, Colombia. But that’s not all — it’s also charging people $1 million to participate. Scientists and ethicists say the company’s experiment is not only dubious but it also raises concerns about how anti-aging treatments should be tested in people.
The aim of Libella’s therapy is to lengthen a person’s telomeres, which sit at the tips of chromosomes like caps on the end of shoelaces. First discovered in the 1970s, telomeres have been linked to aging because they seem to shorten as a person gets older. By delivering a gene called TERT to cells, which in turn makes a telomere-rebuilding enzyme called telomerase, Libella thinks it can prevent, delay, or even reverse aging.
“I know what we’re trying to do sounds like science fiction, but I believe it’s a science reality,” Jeff Mathis, CEO of Libella Gene Therapeutics, tells OneZero.
Libella’s therapy is based on studies published by American geneticist Ronald DePinho in 2010 and Spanish scientist Maria Blasco in 2012, which found that telomerase gene therapy could reverse signs of aging in mice. While intriguing, many have dismissed the idea of using gene therapy to reverse aging in humans because it would involve a permanent change to a person’s DNA, a risk that’s hard to justify in someone who’s healthy.
Behind Libella’s technology is Bill Andrews, a molecular biologist who, 20 years ago, led a research group at the Bay Area biotech firm Geron to identify the human telomerase enzyme. He tells OneZero that he developed a telomerase gene therapy and licensed the technology to Libella. “I can’t say it’s the only cause of aging, but it plays a role in humans,” he says about telomere shortening.