Will ponies will be the first to experience regenerative medicine treatments?

This post is also a comment on the fightaging.org “Shutting Down Open Cures” article.

Reason, the author of the Fightaging! blog today posted up an article about how he was shutting down the Opencures.org website. He included a number of articles from that site, and one jumped out at me with the following goal:

“The foundational items on the Open Cures to-do list are as follows:

– Establish a repository of how-to documentation for longevity-enhancing biotechnologies demonstrated on mice in the lab, with sufficient detail and explanation to make it comprehensible and useful for garage biotech groups, DIYbio practitioners, and overseas developers.”

At first I thought “Great, we can create an online SENS cookbook that people can use to apply SENS technology to animals in their own hobbyist experiments”. Then I though about it a bit more deeply and how much of a mission even simple DNA western blotting undergrad experiments were at uni.

No enthusiast is going to be able to replicate SENS experiments to create a long living pet mouse any time soon. Unlike the hobbyist software programming movement in the 1980s, running a lab out of a garage will remain too expensive and time consuming for some time into the future. Witness Matthew O’Connor getting a grant of $21,000 from Longecity.org just to pay for the reagents and an automated cell counter necessary for his team’s mitochondrial allotopic gene expression experiment.

What is needed is a business, and no one will be traveling to asia to get anti aging treatments for themselves that haven’t been proven to work at least a couple of dozen times in humans. So we are at the situation where it is too expensive for hobbyist enthusiasts, and only businesses will be able to carry out these treatments. And due to the immense, near billion dollar expense of getting approval for this in humans, there is no market for human treatments. And no one will get anti aging treatments without the human studies. A bit of a chicken and egg situation.

I thought about if there would be a market for people to take their pet dogs to Singapore to perhaps have their senescent cells removed, or get their mitochondrial genes allotopically expressed so that they live longer than 8 to 12 years, or aren’t cripplingly ill in the last 2 to 3 of them? But this probably doesn’t have a large market, as although people love their dogs, very few of them are going to take themselves and their dogs to Singapore (Singapore being the most Western and easiest asian location) to pay ten to fifteen thousand dollars to keep their dog healthy for a bit longer (or maybe I am wrong about this?).

But then I remembered that one type of animal is already having a recent biotechnology applied to it – Polo Ponies.

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This 2013 Economist article describes how cloning is being used in Polo ponies in argentina. This is an economically viable business because decent polo ponies are expensive ($100,000 to $200,000 for top ponies). Most of the clones are for breeding purposes. But clones have the advantage of having 100% of the genes of an exceptional horse rather than just 50%, perhaps reducing the odds that the offspring will be less exceptional (nuture, environment, and chance still play a role). The original company, Crestview, and a local Argentinian competitor, Kheiron Laboratories, can produce between 10 and 30 ponies per year and are already full booked for next year.

The “career” of the average Polo pony starts around age 5 to 6 and continues into its teens. If a $10,000 treatment could extend the pony’s playing career by a few years, it would probably be economically viable, given simply cloning the pony means its clone will have to first go through the cost of 5 years of training and care.