New medical technologies need bold researchers to make the leap from the laboratory table to hospitals and clinics where they can improve or even save lives. Kelsey Moody, a 30-year-old scientist from Beekmantown, is one such researcher.
Kelsey is especially interested in the treatment of age-related diseases but using a different approach. Currently researching age-related diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, Parkinson’s, heart disease and more are taking up huge amounts of funding, however very few of these approaches aim to treat these pathologies at their root causes – the processes of aging – and this is why they are not successful.
His focus in the past few years has been developing an effective treatment for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss among people over 50.
The experimental treatment he’s working on, called LYSOCLEAR, is currently being tested for validity at Ichor Therapeutics, a startup Moody founded in 2013 when he was only a second-year medical student, with a 540.000$ grant received from the Life Extension Foundation. LYSOCLEAR is based on the LysoSENS approach advocated for by the SENS Research Foundation, where Moody worked as an academic coordinator first in 2008-2010 and as a research scientist in 2012.
Both age-related and juvenile-onset macular degeneration are believed to be caused by the accumulation of waste products in the retina cells of patients. This accumulation leads to deterioration of the retina itself and eventually to vision loss. Ichor’s treatment uses special enzymes to break down one of these waste products, called A2E. The hope is to prevent and maybe even reverse the disease.
Moody’s company has received both public and private funds for over 3.2 million dollars, and his efforts have been praised by many experts, including Cornell Medical College’s ophthalmologist Szilard Kiss, Syracuse University’s professor Robert Doyle, and SENS Research Foundation’s Chief Science Officer Aubrey de Grey. Now that LYSOCLEAR’s first efficacy tests are complete, 15 additional million dollars will be needed to move to more thorough animal testing and finally to human clinical trials. If all goes well, this may happen within the next three years.
Kelsey is a long-time supporter of the SENS approach, an approach proposing to repair the damage the aging process does to help maintain health and delay age-related diseases. As he said in Fight Aging! during a recent interview, one of the main reasons he chose to focus on the treatment for age-related macular degeneration is that, in his opinion, it is the SENS therapy closest to clinical implementation. If LYSOCLEAR turned out to be successful, it would go a long way in further validating the whole paradigm. However, AMD is not the only focus of Ichor – they also work on acute myeloid leukemia, a type of blood cancer with low survival chances.
In addition to his ongoing studies as a PhD candidate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology through the University of Miami, Moody received an MBA from Concordia University, Wisconsin, in 2013, and also completed two years of medical training at SUNY Upstate Medical University. He was also Chief Technology Officer at ImmunePath, Inc., and is presently Adjunct Faculty in Onondaga Community College, and a mentor for the 20 Under 20 program at the Thiel Foundation. Kelsey’s next goal after a treatment for AMD is to go back to stem cell research, perhaps ushering new SENS treatments to the clinic.
How did you learn about the SENS approach?
I first came across SENS during an online review on regenerative medicine, and this initiated my interest in the study human aging. At the time, I had no formal training in science. However, Aubrey’s approach made sense to me at face value, so I purchased his book to study it further. After completing the book, I felt I did not have sufficient knowledge to know whether or not his ideas were worthy of serious pursuit, but I was intrigued. I added a major in biochemistry, and reasoned to myself that I would commit to the study of aging until such a time as it was clear to me that such a pursuit was not feasible or a worthwhile use of my time and resources.
Now a decade later, I have graduate level training in research, business, and medicine. While the conversation has become much more sophisticated, the original plan holds true. I have not reached a point where I believe SENS is unworthy of serious study. I have focused my company on translational research because I believe this is the area where we can have the greatest impact and where the largest deficits exist among the various longevity organizations, both nonprofit and commercial.
How easy (or difficult) would it be to adapt LYSOCLEAR to target different types of waste products in lysosomes of different tissues?
The idea of LYSOCLEAR is based on enzyme replacement therapy, which has already been used extensively in a clinical setting for the treatment of lysosomal storage diseases. In principle, the concept of “upgrading lysosomes” can be extended to numerous diseases of aging. The challenge is almost always in identifying ways to efficiently and specifically target the payload to its destination. This is somewhat easier when your target cells are well studied and express receptors known to facilitate efficient targeting, such as monocytes or (in our case) retinal pigmented epithelial cells. It is a harder technical problem for other tissue types. Broadly though, I am optimistic that this approach can be repurposed for other diseases, either by our team or others.
What other age-related diseases could be prevented or cured by clearing the waste from lysosomes?
Atherosclerosis immediately comes to mind, and SENS Foundation has funded research to identify enzymes capable of degrading plaque components, such as 7-ketocholesterol. There is a growing body of research linking lysosomal dysfunction to a number of neurological diseases, but I am not up to date on that research so I’ll refrain from speculating.
LYSOCLEAR may be the first SENS therapy to make it to the clinic. What do you think may be the next one?
There seems to be a lot of good work and focus on delivering senolytic drugs to the clinic. Depending on how you define “SENS therapy” (i.e. based on the SENS concept, or spinning out of SENS Foundation directly) I would imagine the next therapy to be in this field.
Can you tell us more about your work on acute myeloid leukemia? Do you base your approach to this disease on the OncoSENS paradigm, or is it something different?
This is an entirely different project. Some years ago, a paper was published that stated rats who were fed a nano compound called buckminsterfullerene had a doubling of their lifespan as compared to controls. However, this initial work was not a lifespan study. It was a chronic toxicology study at the rats just happened to be allowed to live out their lives. It was underpowered, and not designed as a proper lifespan study.
Given the striking apparent effect, a number of donors and investors have expressed an interest in seeing more work done in this space. However, testing this and related compounds to make mice or rats live longer does not constitute a viable translational path. We have obtained data showing that buckminsterfullerenes could be effective at treating various types of cancer, or perhaps to reduce the adverse side effects from chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Our interest is to test buckminsterfullerenes for longevity properties, but we need a disease indication that is firmly grounded in reality (i.e. acute myeloid leukemia) to accompany our moonshot (an anti-aging drug).
In the past few years, senescent cell clearance has been a hot topic in the field of geroprotection. Would you like to work on this type of treatment as well in the future?
There are other groups that appear to be well positioned to lead the charge with senescent cell clearance, so it is unclear to me what we might be able to contribute to this work. I suspect our attention will likely be applied towards other areas once our LYSOCLEAR program is in the clinic.
What are the main obstacles you have met at the early stage of your project? How could the general public and active supporters eventually help aging researchers the most?
The recurring challenge I see in the aging space is that the overwhelming majority of “anti-aging” researchers have little to no formal scientific training or wet lab experience, (and it shows), or are basic scientists. Virtually none have translational experience – that is, experience moving benchtop discoveries into a path towards commercialization. Conversely, the translational scientists I have interacted with over the years are almost transactional, and seem to be lacking the creativity and imagination of how new technologies could be applied to solve complex medical problems. So most of the people with ideas cannot execute, and most of the people who can execute lack vision. We try to address this issue as a company by having one foot firmly in the fringe, and the other firmly in the mainstream. For example, about half of our staff are futurists with a passion for anti-aging and SENS, but we balance that with experienced pharmaceutical professionals who keep us grounded and focused on actionable discoveries and a legitimate translational strategy. Likewise, all of our drug development programs include a far reaching “moonshot” opportunity, but also a highly conservative disease indication.
In my mind, the most important thing the public and active supporters can do to help aging research is education. I have found that a lot of supporters really approach aging science as almost a religion. A new paper comes out showing compound X improves a few biomarkers in flatworms, suddenly people start taking that supplement. If we want aging science to be taken seriously and become adopted as a mainstream and legitimate discipline, we need to hold the field to higher standards. That begins with top supporters becoming the most educated and vocal critics. Our company has built a transparent and open research culture. We pursue answers to questions, we do not care about who was right and who was wrong – and everything anyone claims is a lie until it works in our hands. The result of iterating projects through such a culture is those projects that survive have a strong basis in reality and represent viable drug development programs that have a real opportunity to work in the clinic. We need to demand that projects we support as an anti-aging community have actionable successes and clearly defined fail points. We also need to celebrate scientists who do a good job in failing projects inexpensively and thoroughly, and not get caught up in the hype of poorly designed studies and anecdotes.