By the time you reach your twilight years, being 90 could be barely any age at all. If the Methuselah Foundation succeeds, from 2030 reaching your ninth decade could be no more remarkable than turning 50, with the same level of associated health and fitness.
The organisation is focused on keeping people feeling healthy far later into their lives, which is a serious challenge given the array of cancers, cardiovascular diseases and age-related illnesses that can affect you as you mature.
The solution lies in the advancement of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, fields that focus on improving or repairing parts of the body ranging from complete organs to individual cells.
Regenerative medicine is somewhat of a holy grail in the wider industry.
The National Institutes of Health, the US Government biomedical research organisation, described its potential impact on humanity: “Imagine a world where there is no donor organ shortage, where victims of spinal cord injuries can walk, and where weakened hearts are replaced. This is the long-term promise of regenerative medicine.”
Methuselah believes that the advancement of this field will lead to cures to the major conditions that hit in old age; everything from heart disease and diabetes to kidney failure and alzheimer’s.
Methuselah is putting some serious cash into the field to fund research in these fields as it believes not enough is currently being done to further regenerative medicine.
The organisation cites US federal spending as proof of this – tissue engineering gets only $500m per year next to cancer’s $5bn and HIV/AIDS’ $3bn.
At the forefront of the organisation’s research is the New Organ prize – a $1m award for the first team to create a fully-functioning bioengineered replacement liver for a large mammal.
The competition is open to teams from all over the world, and runs until 2018. Soon to follow are similar prizes for the heart, lungs and kidney, which means that if the competitions are successful organ donation could become a thing of the past.
The Foundation also has a number of other projects up its sleeves. It has provided funding for the development of personalised cancer treatments, the genomic sequencing of 200 year old bowhead whales and prizes for increasing longevity in mice.
Methuselah has also partnered with 3D tissue printing biotech company Organovo to supply bioprinters to researchers working on tissue engineering, which will bring the breakthrough technology of tissue bioprinting to mainstream research.
Organovo is furthering the field itself – yesterday it announced that it had started contracting for toxicity testing using 3D human liver tissue that the company has developed, which could be valuable new approach to drug development that significantly speeds up the process.