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Can Gene Therapy Slow Ageing in Dogs?

Posted on 3 June 2020

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A startup called Rejuvenate Bio is looking to bring a promising gene therapy cocktail to dogs, and perhaps to humans eventually, in order to fight age-related diseases.

The gene therapy technology in question comes from George Church’s lab at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. In their initial study in mice, Prof. Church and colleagues introduced three genes using an adeno-associated virus (AAV). AAVs do not cause disease and can infect both dividing and non-dividing cells. Furthermore, genes introduced via these viruses are not incorporated into the genome (any insertion into the genome carries the risk of cancer). These benefits make AAVs attractive vectors for gene therapy. The genes were aimed at boosting the production of three proteins:

  • Fibroblast growth factor 21, a hormone involved in a broad variety of processes including cell growth and survival, tissue repair, embryonic development and regulation of sugar intake.
  • Transforming growth factor beta receptor II, the activation of which regulates cell division.
  • Alpha klotho, a protein that influences insulin sensitivity, increases kidney absorption of calcium, and is linked to kidney failure and ageing in general.

The researchers introduced these genes in mouse models of obesity, type II diabetes, heart failure, and renal failure. They found that these genes had striking effects on health – just FGF21 and TGF Beta II in combination were able to completely reverse weight gain and type II diabetes following a single injection, diminish kidney atrophy by 75% in mice with renal failure, and improve heart function in mice with heart failure.

Now, Rejuvenate Bio plans to bring this therapy to more complex animals – dogs. They aim to enrol 10 dogs with mitral valve disease, a condition that leads to heart failure and affects over 7 million dogs in the U.S, followed by larger studies if this pilot is successful. This research could help dogs live longer, healthier lives, but according to George Church, the ultimate aim is to bring this technology to humans – a goal for which this trial will hopefully prove to be an important stepping stone.

Anti ageing gene therapy is already being explored in some human trials, although participation may cost you upwards of $1 million.

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