Charles Brenner: longevity is not a simple engineering problem

Dr Charles Brenner on the longevity understanding disconnect, the best interventions for longevity, and the NR trials he’d like to see.

The Longevity Investors Conference is a key event for those interested in learning about longevity investment opportunities and finding out more about the exciting directions in which the field is accelerating. The world’s leading and most private longevity-focused investors-only conference, LIC attracts some of the most prominent thought leaders.

Longevity.Technology: One of those thought leaders is Charles Brenner, the biochemist whose work on nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), the central catalyst of metabolism, includes the discovery of nicotinamide riboside (NR) kinase pathway and the resulting tech that led to the development of NR as an NAD-booster.

As Eric Verdin did recently, Brenner is one for driving the longevity debate, even if it causes more than a few ripples, and in cautioning against overstating progress, he is a significant calibration point for our industry (Twitter wars, notwithstanding). We were able to grab a few moments with Brenner at LIC to find out more about his thoughts on the current state of play – check out what he had to say in our video below.

Charles Brenner on…

Longevity progression

It’s an extremely exciting time in science; in terms of huge breakthroughs in longevity research, I think there’s a real disconnect between what the public thinks and what is actually happening. Partial reprogramming is really in its infancy, dominant longevity genes don’t exist, activators of those genes don’t exist.

People need to understand that lifespan is genetically encoded and the drivers of longevity have to do with reproduction – survival, getting food, avoiding predation, finding a mate, having babies – there isn’t really a direct selection for longevity and it’s really an emergent property of our gene sets and not something that’s easily engineered.

The best interventions for longevity

If there were simple, dominantly-acting longevity genes, then CRISPR would change a lot, but longevity is highly polygenic, so we don’t know what to CRISPR in.

The best interventions for longevity have always been public health, cleaning up water, ensuring food, promoting physical activity, vaccination, avoiding violence. There isn’t anything better than exercise and good hygiene that has been developed though medicine.

Reversion diversion

I don’t call nicotinamide riboside a longevity drug, but it has 50 ongoing clinical trials and positive signals in Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative conditions and it’s clearly anti-inflammatory. I’d like to see placebo-controlled trials in which we look at wound repair as that’s a discrete thing we can measure.

I don’t really think that you can do a lifespan trial itself, and I not entirely convinced by the trials that are only measured by biomarker reversion; if your intervention is acting on the epigenetic machinery, then just reversing that machinery doesn’t tell you anything functional.

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