This Monumental Breakthrough Could Turn the World Upside Down — and Make Some Investors Filthy Rich


You might have heard the stories about Ponce de Leon’s search for the fountain of youth. As it turns out, there’s no evidence that the Spanish explorer actually embarked on such a search. The stories appear to be as mythical as the fountain of youth itself.

But the idea of restoring youth could be about to move from myth to reality. Scientists announced a monumental breakthrough last week that could turn the world upside down. And it just might make some investors filthy rich.

Unlocking the cause of aging

The conventional wisdom among scientists for years has been that DNA mutations over time cause aging. However, a team of scientists led by Harvard Medical School professor David Sinclair appears to have shown that epigenetic changes (chemical and structural changes that affect genes, but without DNA sequence alterations) could instead be an important — and perhaps even primary — cause of aging.

Image source: Getty Images.

Sinclair and his fellow researchers published results on Jan. 12, 2023, in the scientific journal Cell detailing their findings from a 13-year study. His previous research had shown that epigenetic changes coincide with aging. However, last week’s report demonstrated that these epigenetic changes actually drive aging.

In the recently concluded study, scientists induced aging in mice by mimicking breaks in chromosomes that didn’t alter their genetic code. Such breaks occur naturally over time in mice and other animals. Sinclair’s team pressed the fast-forward button with their approach to make the mice age much more quickly. 

But they didn’t stop there. The researchers then injected a gene therapy in the mice that reversed the induced epigenetic changes. The mice appeared to be made young again, with no signs of aging. This process could even be repeated, with the scientists inducing aging in mice and restoring their youth at will. 

Sinclair told CNN that the mice cells went back “to between 50% and 75% of the original age.” He said that the upper range appeared to be the limit for age reversal, but that the team didn’t yet understand why.

Head-spinning implications

The research team is already moving forward with testing this same approach, which they call ICE (inducible changes to the epigenome) in monkeys. Their goal is to conduct studies in humans if the preclinical testing goes well, focusing on age-related diseases that cause blindness.

Inducing epigenetic changes might not work in humans. Even if it does, it could be decades before it’s available outside clinical studies. However, there’s no question that the potential for age-reversing gene therapy has head-spinning implications.

In his interview with CNN, Sinclair stated, “We’re talking about taking someone who’s old or sick and making their whole body or a specific organ young again, so the disease goes away.” Age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and neuromuscular degeneration could one day be reversible.

This would radically transform society. Healthcare costs associated with caring for the elderly could decline. Social Security and Medicare would probably need to be dramatically overhauled as Americans live longer lives. Many people would likely work longer, shaking up the workplace. 

A way-too-early look at investing opportunities

Trying to identify investing opportunities at this point with the ICE approach is admittedly getting the cart way before the horse. But it’s not too early to predict that some investors could become filthy rich over time if ICE pans out.

Sinclair and several scientists on his team have affiliations with biotech companies, including Cantata Bio, Life Biosciences, and Zymo Research. Most of these companies remain privately held for now, though. Another private company, Rejuvenate Bio, is also pursuing similar research and recently reported results from a study where it modestly increased longevity in elderly mice. If one or more of these biotechs go public, they could generate huge returns in the future if their testing is successful.

Alphabet‘s (GOOG 0.76%) (GOOGL 0.84%) Calico also focuses on research to extend the human life span. It teamed up with AbbVie (ABBV -0.94%) to develop new therapies for age-related diseases. The two big partners are likely closely watching the latest developments, especially considering that AbbVie already has epigenetics programs underway.

There’s also an entire industry that could benefit significantly as advances are made in treating age-related diseases. Health insurance stocks should soar if new innovations make it possible to lower healthcare costs. UnitedHealth Group (UNH -0.53%) ranks as the biggest health insurer based on market cap and stands out as one of the best picks right now.

Of course, where there are winners, there are also losers. Companies such as Biogen (BIIB -0.08%) and Eisai (ESALY 1.48%), which recently secured U.S. regulatory approval for Alzheimer’s disease drug Lequembi, could see their profits zapped if major progress is made with ICE.

Again, it’s way too early for investors to jump on a given horse in this race. But the findings announced last week really could be game changing and generate massive wealth down the road. 

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Keith Speights has positions in AbbVie and Alphabet. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Alphabet. The Motley Fool recommends Biogen and UnitedHealth Group. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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