Mitrix wants to create biobanks of our “young mitochondria” that we can use to help our cells regenerate as we age.
Californian start-up Mitrix this week secured $250,000 in pre-seed funding to embark on its mission to develop a “whole body mitochondrial transfusion” technology. The company is the first investment of Ronjon Nag’s R42 AI and Longevity Fund, which split the round 50/50 with Petr Sramek’s Longevity Tech Fund.
Longevity.Technology: Like waiting for London buses, you eagerly await news of progress in the mitochondrial transfusion space, then two companies announce funding at the same time! On Tuesday, we covered Cellvie’s seed round for its therapeutic mitochondria transfer treatment, and today we bring you an exclusive interview with Tom Benson, founder and CEO of Mitrix.
Mitochondria, the power generators within our cells, are one of the key factors in the aging process, and their dysfunction is linked to a wide range of diseases, from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s to heart attacks and strokes. The idea behind Mitrix is to extract and grow “young” mitochondria in external bioreactors, and then transfuse them into your body in later life, enabling the regeneration of cells to a more youthful state.
“The slow decline of mitochondria, over time, is one of the primary or perhaps even the primary factor in aging,” says Benson. “If you look at all the different things that people are doing to try to reverse aging, all of which are very interesting, senolytic technology, telomeres and gene therapy – the thing is, if your mitochondria aren’t up to the job, it’s not going to matter.”
“But what if we could give a 90-year-old the mitochondria they had at 30?” he asks.
It’s an interesting question and not as far-fetched as it may sound. There is already scientific evidence showing that mitochondrial transfusions can deliver therapeutic results in humans, and that, once transfused into body, young mitochondria are likely to spread.
“What a lot of people have been doing is trying to find drugs to help mitochondria work better, but we’re taking it a step further – let’s create or grow mitochondria, inject them into you and get them to be absorbed into your cells,” says Benson. “So we’re actually supplementing your mitochondria with younger mitochondria.”
Of course, Mitrix is still a company in its earliest stages, and what it is proposing is only theory at this point, but Benson feels that progress made in the understanding of mitochondria over the past 10 years makes it a theory worth pursuing.
“Most people thought of mitochondria is just kind of being there,” he explains. “The traditional biological view is you don’t need to move them around, you’ve got them in your cell, and when your cell needs more it just makes them. Well, what we’ve found out is that mitochondria don’t just sit there – they are actively transported all over your body all the time. And so, if that’s true, then we should be able to harness that, or manipulate that process.”
“ … We have blood banks today, and so, in theory, we’d like to have mitochondria banks in the future … ”
But, rather than moving mitochondria from one part of the body to another, Mitrix is proposing to grow young mitochondria in a bioreactor, and then use them to bolster the entire body, or specific organs. Benson suggests that the approach could also potentially help children who have mitochondrial mutation diseases, by helping increase the number of functional, healthy mitochondria in their bodies.
“The idea is that we grow them in stem cells in a bioreactor, in the same way they that they make stem cells now, except we’re just using the stem cells for growth,” says Benson. “Our goal is to manufacture these and distribute them the same way you might with donated blood. We have blood banks today, and so, in theory, we’d like to have mitochondria banks in the future. The biggest issue for us is now showing that we can produce it large enough quantities.”
“This is such fundamental science that, if we are successful, even with small animals, a lot of people are going to be very interested in it.”
With the new funding expected to take the company through the next six months, Mitrix is now readying itself for pre-clinical work, which will involve putting together a demonstration animal model in the coming weeks.
“This is such fundamental science that, if we are successful, even with small animals, a lot of people are going to be very interested in it,” says Benson, who is hoping that the company can start testing in humans within a year or so. “A lot of the animal model work has been done already by other people – it’s a lot farther along than people realise.”
While Benson himself is not from the biotech world, Mitrix brings together experts in mitochondrial medicine, mitochondrial transfusion, and neurodegenerative disease.
Speaking about his fund’s investment in the company, R42 Group’s Ronjon Nag told us, “Mitrix is looking at the fundamental causes of aging, and is exactly the kind of company we are looking for. Mitochondria is in every cell and is the result of 90% a cell’s energy – it could help many different diseases all at once.”