In 2013, Time magazine ran a cover story titled Google vs. Death about Calico, a then-new Google-run health venture focused on understanding aging — and how to beat it. "We should shoot for the things that are really, really important, so 10 or 20 years from now we have those things done," Google CEO Larry Page told Time.
But how exactly would Calico help humans live longer, healthier lives? How would it invest its vast $1.5 billion pool of money? Beyond sharing the company's ambitious mission — to better understand the biology of aging and treat aging as a disease — Page was vague.
I recently started poking around in Silicon Valley and talking to researchers who study aging and mortality, and discovered that four years after its launch, we still don't know what Calico is doing.
I asked everyone I could about Calico — and quickly learned that it's an impenetrable fortress. Among the little more than a dozen press releases Calico has put out, there were only broad descriptions of collaborations with outside labs and pharmaceutical companies — most of them focused on that overwhelmingly vague mission of researching aging and associated diseases. The media contacts there didn't so much as respond to multiple requests for interviews.
People who work at Calico, Calico's outside collaborators, and even folks who were no longer with the company, stonewalled me.
We should pause for a moment to note how strange this is. One of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world has taken an interest in aging research, with about as much funding as NIH's entire budget for aging research, yet it's remarkably opaque.
[David] Botstein [the Calico Chief Scientific Officer] says a "best case" scenario is that Calico will have something profound to offer the world in 10 years. That time line explains why the company declines media interviews. "There will be nothing to say for a very long time, except for some incremental scientific things. That is the problem."
But avoiding media hype does not require secrecy among scientific colleagues. If Calico's scientists were truly interested in pushing the boundaries of science, they might think about using some of the best practices that have been developed to that end: transparency, data sharing, and coordinating with other researchers so they don't go down redundant and wasteful paths.
-- submitted from IRC
In the world of animal models, naked mole rats are the supermodels. They rarely get cancer, are resistant to some types of pain, and can survive up to 18 minutes without oxygen. But perhaps their greatest feat, a new paper suggests, is that they don't age.
The first study to analyze the life histories of thousands of naked mole rats has found that their risk of death doesn't go up as they grow older, as it does for every other known mammalian species. Although some scientists caution against any sweeping conclusions, many say the new data are important and striking.
"This is remarkably low mortality," says Caleb Finch, a biogerontologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles who was not involved in the new study. "At advanced ages, their mortality rate remains lower than any other mammal that has been documented."
Scientists have long noted that naked mole rats—burrowing rodents with wrinkled, pink skin and large protruding teeth that live in large, subterranean colonies—show few signs of aging and far surpass the life span expected of a rodent this size. Mice in captivity live at most 4 years; based on their size, naked mole rats would not be expected to live past 6 years. Instead, some live beyond 30 years, and even at that age breeding females stay fertile.
The scientists behind the research work at Calico, Google's biotechnology and anti-aging subsidiary.
Naked mole-rat mortality rates defy Gompertzian laws by not increasing with age (open, DOI: 10.7554/eLife.31157.001) (DX)