Project PI: Jankie Bajoon M.D, MSc.
Laboratory PI: Mizukami Hiroaki M.D., Ph.D.
Disclaimer: The projects in this category are not endorsed by VitaDAO’s Longevity Dealflow Working Group, nor by the Senior Reviewers it relies upon.
Evaluate the efficiency and safety of different c-MYC free partial cell reprogramming strategies (OSK and Oct3/4 alone) by viral vector gene delivery to extend healthy lifespan in vitro and in vivo. In addition, investigate possible synergistic effects with other interventions such as senolytics, intermittent fasting (IF), and TERT activation.
Ageing is a degenerative process characterized by a gradual loss of function occurring at the molecular, cellular, and organismal level, resulting in health decline, increased morbidity, and care dependency. At the chromatin level, ageing comes with a progressive accumulation of epigenetic noise that eventually leads to aberrant gene regulation, senescence, and deregulated tissue homeostasis. These changes determine “the epigenetic clock”and occur when specific DNA is methylated in the chromatin, ultimately repressing youthful gene transcription patterns in old cells. In nature, this process is reversible and occurs when a new zygote is conceived, and the epigenetic clock is reset. Artificially, cell reprogramming (CR) can reverse this clock by modifying DNA methylation patterns, which restores the youthful transcriptome, reducing the biological age of somatic cells. CR works by the expression of reprogramming transcription factors (RF); OSKM (or OSK), which are silenced during adulthood. For CR to be reversible and controllable, a trans-activator protein (TA) that regulates the temporal activation of RF, must be included along with the RF. This strategy is crucial for the technique of partial CR, which main advantage in age reversal over induced pluripotency (iPSC) is that cell identity is not abolished, hence an effective molecular rejuvenation with no carcinogenic risk. Using adeno-associated virus (AAV) mediated-partial CR, research groups have successfully ameliorated the aged phenotype in OSKM transgenic wild-type and progeroid mice (Ocampo et al., Cell, 2016), cured vision loss in mice with glaucoma (Lu et al., Nature, 2020), improved memory and delayed onset of neurodegeneration in old mice (Rodriguez-Matellan et al., Stem cell, 2020). Although this shows remarkable proof of concept, some limitations to reproducing this strategy for adult human rejuvenation include: 1. The need for a dual system that carries the TA and the RF on separate AAV vectors would negatively affect the clinical outcome due to an uneven TA: RF transfection ratio. 2. Inducible OSKM transgenic humans are still non-ethical. Interestingly, for many cell types, the ectopic expression of a single RF (Oct4 instead of OSK) is enough to rejuvenate the old age phenotype when combined with other drugs such as valproic acid or p53 inhibitors (helper drugs), that boost the initiation of the reprogramming process (Zhang et al., Aging cell, 2022).
The development of a multi-tissue AAV single vector that fits both the RF (Oct4 or OSK) and TA, is presumed to be sufficient to reprogram cells and tissues in the presence of helper drugs, restoring the healthy function of major organs such as the brain and heart in animal models. This approach reduces the risk of uneven TA:RF ratio transfection, increases clinical outcome after reprogramming, and allows the objective evaluation of the therapy’s efficiency. Since biological age varies according to cell type, I will compare whole-body versus specific-organ tailored vectors to determine which is more efficient in ameliorating different aspects of the old age phenotype. In addition, I will screen the combination of gene therapy with telomerase activation, fasting, and senolytics, which have proven to extend healthy lifespan in mice (Mitchell et al., Cell metabolism, 2019) and that could act synergistically in rejuvenation since ageing is a multifactorial process.
Innovative features: the limitations of previous studies when attempting to reproduce this strategy in adult humans for reverse ageing purposes include: 1. The need for a dual AAV vector system that carries the RF and TA separately negatively impacts the clinical outcome due to an uneven TA:RF transfection ratio. 2. Inducible OSKM transgenic humans are neither feasible nor ethical. The proposed approach can overcome these issues by the use of a single vector instead of a dual AAV system,that reduces the risk of uneven transfection ratio, increases clinical outcome after reprogramming, and allows researchers to objectively evaluate its efficiency. Other innovative features include: 1.Establishment of a safe dosage: I will carefully monitor when partial CR becomes harmful(loss of cell identity) by measuring several times (before, after, and during the gene therapy activation) the biological age in vivo.2. Since ageing is a multifactorial process, I will combine partial CR with other interventions such as TERT activation, IF and senolytics, and look for synergistic effects. This combination has no scientific precedents.
To evaluate the efficiency and safety of different c-MYC free partial CR strategies, using OSK or Oct3/4 alone by AAV gene delivery, to extend healthy lifespan, reduce frailty and to reverse the aged phenotype in accelerated ageing, progeroid, and wild type mouse models. In addition, to investigate possible synergistic effects with other interventions such as senolytics, intermittent fasting (IF), and TERT activation.
EXPERIMENTAL PLAN and METHODS (Figure.1)
Phase 1: Vector development (Figure.2, 3)
Vector design and cloning simulation in snapgene > subcloning treatment cassettes (RF) and transactivator (TA) into AAV vectors by enzyme digestion, PCR and bacterial transformation > Plasmid confirmation by SANGER sequencing > Plasmid maxi prep > Vector production by Calcium Phosphate triple transfection > Vector purification by Cesium Chloride > Vector confirmation by qPCR.
Phase 2: In vitro screening.
- Human primary cells: PBMC from blood samples, liver or skin fibroblasts, lens cells, progeria skin fibroblasts.
- Murine primary cells: pyramidal neurons from hippocampus, liver or skin fibroblasts, post-mitotic skeletal muscle.
Tests: Horvath’s Epigenetic clock (gDNA methylation levels by Microarray, Illumina 850 EPIC arrays), Transduction efficiency of vectors (western blot and antibody detection), Detection and quantification of gene expression (qPCR), In vitro lifespan: (number of cell culture passages). Senescence (SA-β- Gal, p21, Phospho p53) and proliferation marker ( KI67). DNA damage (Gamma H2AX), collagen production from skin fibroblasts.
Phase 3: In vivo testing (Figure. 4)
Mouse models: C57BL/6J wild type, Progeria and SAMP8
- Cyclic (positive controls)
2 days on, 5 days off (Belmonte, 2016)
One week off, One week on (Davidsohn, 2023)
- Continuous (positive controls)
- 13 days : optimal rejuvenation zone (Singh, 2022)
HealthTech (original Regimes and combinations)
Everyday until organic death or until biological age (eAge) and frailty significantly decrease (g.e. 18 months old mice reach 12 months of eAge)
Daily PR for 10 days followed by 24 hours food fasted + PR weekly or monthly
Daily PR for 10 days followed by 16 hours food fasted + PR weekly or monthly.
- 3.1 Whole body (AAV9 capsid). Tests for virus transduction efficiency, protein expression (RF, senescence and proliferation markers), and virus localization respectively: quantitative RT-PCR and immunostaining of brain, heart, liver, lung, kidneys, and skeletal muscle tissue. Healthspan assessment: object recognition task (memory), rotarod and tightrope test (coordination and balance), DEXA scan (body composition), multitissue epigenetic clock (biological age), body weight, walking speed, strength, endurance, physical activity (frailty). Plasma insulin and IGF-1 (metabolic markers).
- 3.2 Brain-specific (AAV.CAP-B10 capsid targeting hippocampus). Tests for virus transduction efficiency, protein expression (RF, senescence and proliferation markers), and virus localization: RT-PCR and Immunostaining of hippocampal sections. Specific tests: electrophysiology (action potential propagation), object recognition task (memory, cognition), Fear conditioning (short term memory), Barnes maze (long-term memory), rotarod test (coordination, balance), active place avoidance (spatial learning). Post mortem epigenetic clock of the hippocampus.
Phase 4: Result analysis (whole body and organ-specific)
Kaplan-Meier estimator (Survival/ Lifespan). T- test (Statistical analysis).
The experimental intervention aims to partially reprogram cells and tissues, extending mice’ healthy lifespan, reducing frailty, or increasing the health span with no carcinogenic effects of specific organs in mice, VitaDAO will have the shared rights to reproduce and use the gene therapy that results from Jankie Bajoon’s experiments in another lab (abroad or in Japan) for in vitro, and in vivo experiments or as an intervention for approved human clinical trials. In addition, detailed protocols for how to develop and test the gene therapy, as follows:
- Production of Dr. Jankie Bajoon’s original designs of cell partial reprogramming single and dual AAV vector systems. Selected original strategies that efficiently rejuvenate tissues, improve senescence markers, extend healthy lifespan and reduce frailty in mice and improve fitness, neurocognitive and other health span tests compared to control groups. These strategies include combination with other interventions such as dietary regimes, senolytics, and TERT activation, that act in synergy. (From western blot, qPCR, and Immunostaining to survival curves).¨
Due to the clinical advantage of AAV-mediated therapy over other viral systems and the promising rejuvenation ability of partial CR, the main questions that this project will clarify include:
- If an original design of a single AAV vector carrying one reprogramming factor (Oct4), administered with helper drugs, is sufficient to rejuvenate cells and tissues in vivo by partial reprogramming.
- If three RF (OSK) can be compacted and fit in a single AAV vector along with TA and have a significant rejuvenation effect in vivo.
- To detect or discard carcinogenic effects.
- To compare the rejuvenating effects of partial reprogramming in organ-tailored versus whole-organism gene therapy. Specifically, I will test an AAV vector that targets the hippocampus and measure its ability to improve memory, induce hippocampal neurogenesis, and delay age-related neurodegeneration. The result will give an insight into the feasibility of organ-tailored cell reprogramming that can be accommodated to the patient’s particular condition (e.g. brain targeted CR for neurodegenerative diseases), as well as developing a whole-body therapy for prevention of the aged phenotype and healthy lifespan extension.
- Possible synergistic effects with other longevity interventions such as: senolytics, intermittent fasting (IF), and TERT activation.
- Efficiency of these strategies to ameliorate the accelerated aged phenotype and to delay early death in progeroid mice, which can serve as a complementary treatment for progeria patients.
Jankie Bajoon M.D, MSc. Ph.D student
Matilde Miranda Ph. D, UCLA
Mizukami Hiroshi MD, Ph.D.
3 years program research.
Partial reprogramming rejuvenation by viral vector gene therapy + combined interventions.
In vivo models: accelerated ageing, wild type and progeria mice.
Jankie Bajoon M.D labour for 3 years (2023-2026), specialists consultation, and guidance: 30,000 USD
University’s Contribution for IP. This fee corresponds to the contribution to Jichi Medical University (JMU) for the IP rights of the patent that is generated from Dr. Jankie Bajoon’s research at the division of genetic therapeutics of JMU during his doctoral program in the period of 2022-2026. It also covers the equipment and reagents used for vector development, in vitro and in vivo experiments. Licence holder (2026) of the gene therapy: Transient reprogramming rejuvenation by Adeno associated virus (AAV): 70,000 USD
Total: 100.000 USD
Strategy for indication selection, given the current regulatory landscape requiring it
- The long-term goal of this project is to produce a non-carcinogenic rejuvenating gene therapy that extends the healthy lifespan of adult humans, reduces frailty in the elderly, and compresses morbidity incidence. Selection criteria for the first clinical trials could include a biological age measured by Horvath’s multi-tissue epigenetic clock or DNAm PhenoAge of ≥ 60, a clinical frailty score of ≥ 4, and/ or a poor score on metabolic biomarkers. The objective is to avoid and delay the aged-phenotype and prevent age-related diseases (neurodegeneration, cardiovascular diseases, sarcopenia, etc)
In addition, other specific pathologies include:
- Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome (Complementary treatment to farnesyltransferase inhibitors)
- Age-associated memory impairment
- Neurodegenerative disorders
- Age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts.
One of the most important exclusion criteria include cancer, therefore cancer screening by imaging and biomarkers is also needed.