Calico Battles “Disease” of Aging
September 9, 2014
With every moment of each day our cells get progressively older. And while we can consciously try to fight the aging process through exercise, stress-control, eating right, ingesting various antioxidants and supplements, plus applying anti-aging creams and lotions, despite our best efforts, we know that getting older is inevitable. Or is it?
Not if Calico has something to say about it.
Calico, shortened from California Life Company, is a Google-established R&D venture with plans to tackle aging by harnessing advanced technologies in molecular biochemistry and genetics to increase understanding of the biological functions that control lifespan and ultimately develop interventions that will enable people to lead longer, healthier lives.
Arthur Levinson, Calico CEO, former CEO of Genentech, and Chairman of the Board at Apple, is one of a powerhouse team of executives, scientists and geneticists. Yet another high-profile recruit is scientist Cynthia Kenyon, VP of Aging Research. Kenyon, a biochemistry and biophysics professor, demonstrated through her research at UCSF that the rate of aging is not random, but subject to genetic control via universal hormone-signaling pathways in the cells of humans and in many other species.
The pursuit of anti-aging research has been active for quite some time, and has included areas such as increasing telomerase production to protect telomere length, organ replacement via 3D printing, switching on antioxidant enzymes in the human body, and genetically-tailored drug treatments. In the same vein, Google and Calico are looking towards the future with research into radical life extension.
Just last week Calico announced a massive $1.2B collaboration with Chicago-based pharmaceutical company AbbVie that aims to ‘accelerate discovery, development and commercialization of new therapies for age related diseases’, specifically mentioning cancer and neurodegeneration. Initial funding will go first towards creating Calico research facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area, and then towards early research efforts.
In a September 2013 article, Google CEO Larry Page told TIME Magazine, “We should shoot for the things that are really, really important, so 10 or 20 years from now we have those things done”. Google was one of the original corporate backers of Singularity University. Singularity, as defined by co-founder Ray Kurzweil, is “a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.” Altering the inevitability of aging would certainly fall into this category.
In the year 1900, the average lifespan of humans was only 47 years. With improvements to infrastructure, increased access to resources and vastly advanced healthcare, the current average lifespan is now 78 years. However, the longer we live, our elder years are more affected by age-related disease. This consequently pushes up the cost of healthcare.
As wonderful as life extension and possible freedom from age-related diseases will be to the seven billion people on our planet, overpopulation issues and challenges will need to be co-developed to address potential depletion of natural resources, food and water sources, and infrastructure support. We also need to start asking the question: are we just pushing out disease for another 10-20 years, without eliminating the burden of treating chronic age-related illnesses?
Tackling the science of aging will take time, much human effort, significant financial capital, many years of research and the cooperation of many entities. But as organizations such as Calico venture forward, we may start thinking that aging might not be inevitable, but optional.