Posted on 7 December 2016
Innovative new startup Cell Age is using synthetic biology to develop new ways of targeting and removing senescent cells. We caught up with CEO Mantas Matjusaitis for an interview as their first fundraiser goes live on Lifespan.io (find it here)Could you tell us a little bit about your approach and what makes you different? We are a synthetic biology company which will use proven proprietary methods to develop tools and therapies to specifically target senescent cells. Early on, we will be focusing on developing novel approaches to identify senescent cells and this will help to screen for new drugs as well as move the field forward in general. Importantly, we will offer our first products for free to researchers from academia, because, in the end, our mission is to help the society and scientific community and we think this is the right way forward. Later on, our tools will be used to make cell-based therapies safer by removing senescent cells before the transplantations. And eventually, we are aiming to help create safe and accurate gene therapies to help fight age-related diseases like osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis and more. We think that the synthetic biology approach we take makes us different and we truly believe that this adds value to the entire longevity community and movement. What inspired your team to create a company targeting an aspect of the aging process? I personally have always been interested in ageing research and it is the passion of my life. However, I think we need to adopt some new, game changing technologies to translate basic findings into medicine. This is also why I have chosen to do a PhD in synthetic biology. By giving new functions to existing biological molecules, we can engineer amazing things. This field will soon start booming, affecting every aspect of our lives. CellAge came to existence by chance. At the end of 2015 I was well aware of studies in mice which have shown that removing senescent cells might have a therapeutic potential, I happened to meet someone working on technology allowing precise targeting of various cell types with synthetic promoters. We discussed the technological possibility of merging these two different fields and we eventually decided there was serious potential there. It just kicked off after that! Why senescent cells, for readers who aren’t up to date on the science? There are couple of reasons why senescent cells are our first target. Firstly, a number of studies have shown that targeting them has a positive effect on healthspan and lifespan in mice, and we are hoping that this can be translated into humans. Secondly, it is very defined target which makes it particularly amenable to therapeutic intervention. Lastly, the synthetic biology platform we are using is perfectly suited to targeting different cell types in an exclusive manner, avoiding healthy cells. Senescent cells are only an early milestone for us however. We want to continue to merge synthetic biology with ageing research and explore many other exciting avenues in the future. What do you think of the current ‘longevity industry? There is a great deal of potential out there, and every day gets us closer and closer. It is very exciting to see a shift in the public’s perception on ageing happening slowly. I for one am very happy to see that people starting to understand that we would really all benefit from making our ageing population healthier and fitter. How do you see the industry moving forward in the next few years? Do you think it could do with more startups like yourself entering the field? I think we will see some amazing things in very near future and hopefully even the first true, available therapies coming out! It will definitely become one of the biggest research fields in coming years because, in the end, it is one of the key scientific problems and has massive growth prospects. Regarding the industry’s growth, the more groups that enter the field – the more shots we have at the target, and the higher the chance we’ll see some success. As a scientist, I am passionate first and foremost about the technology and honestly, we’re happy to see vibrant competition from other companies. For me that means that we have reached the first milestone and we can start working on the next one! You’re going to perform a fundraiser is that right? Could you tell us a bit more about it, what you hope to raise funds for? We are currently running a crowdfunding campaign together with Lifespan, a crowdfunding platform which helps to fundraise for ageing research (find it here). The guys behind it are amazing and truly experts in their field. This money will be used for proof of concept studies and for product development. We need $100,000 to finish this stage, after which we will already have a viable product and an assay that we will give away for free to interested academic labs! All of the money is going straight into research. We really want to thank our backers for their support and so, together with our partners Dr. Aubrey de Grey, MyHeritage, Amino Labs, Genomix and Robotical, we have lined up some really great rewards for your donations. Not only will your support will help us to better understand the ageing process, but you can also get your own programmable robot, DNA test kit to check your family origins, do-it-yourself bioengineering kit to start experimenting at home, a conference call with Dr. Aubrey de Grey and much more. In the end, you help the cause you believe in AND get an exciting reward. I would call it a win-win situation. If people are interested how can they get involved? To learn more about the crowdfunding campaign, please visit out website www.cellage.org. If you have any questions and would like to get to know us, please just drop us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or a message on facebook. We are always eager to chat!