It seems like a new strategy when it comes to conducting controversial and potentially unethical research is: “If you can’t beat ‘em, do it on animals.” That was the case with the new announcement of a human-chicken hybrid which was justified as being ethical because it used an “embryo-like” human stem cell cluster and a chicken embryo. Now comes the news that a company decided to test its anti-aging gene therapy on dogs because “the FDA approves much faster.” Will dogs outlive humans while this “fountain of youth” awaits FDA approval?
“You don’t want to go to the FDA and say we extend life by 20 years. They’d say, ‘Great, come back in 20 years with the data.’”
Synthetic biologist George Church of the Harvard Medical School founded Rejuvenate Bio to create synthetic genes that will add new DNA instructions to human DNA to help them live longer. However, at an event held earlier this month by the MIT Technology Review, it was announced that the patent applications filed by the company are aimed at the pet marketplace, which is estimated to be $72 billion annually.
“The Dog is the market itself,” said Church at the event in Boston last week. “It’s not just a big body, close to the people. It is something that people pay, and the FDA approves much faster. We will conduct tests on dogs, we will do product and pay scale before testing on people.”
How noble. They love dogs because it’s a bigger market. Church said that testing has already begun on mice and beagles, but revealed very little about results so far. Their initial focus seems to be not on altering the entire aging process but one area at a time. For dogs, they plan to start with the heart disease that is common and life-shortening in cocker spaniels and Doberman Pinschers. Rejuvenate Bio is said to be developing over 60 different methods of gene therapy to test and, once the heart disease puzzle is solved, will move on to kidney failure, obesity and diabetes. According to Church, the results on mice are already “quite stunning”.
And controversial. Besides testing on dogs to avoid FDA delays, Rejuvenate Bio is said to be meeting with philosophers and ethics experts to discuss implications for both dogs and humans. One consideration is that, if dogs begin outliving their human owners, they’ll just end up being euthanized anyways when there’s no one to take care of them – no matter how healthy they might be. Only a few dogs – like those used in the military or policing – would have others to care for them long-term. Will this be used on other animals? Should it? The patent includes “cow, pig, horse, cat, dog, rat, etc.”
What about humans? How will they deal with what Church sees as his ultimate goal?
“[To] have the body and mind of a 22-year-old but the experience of a 130-year-old.”
How many worms are in this ethical can? Church doesn’t seem to be worried and says he’ll volunteer to be one of the first subjects.