What must longevity labs keep in mind when setting up?
Longevity labs are research facilities dedicated to studying aging and developing therapies to extend the human lifespan and improve the quality of life as people age. Examples of research topics studied in longevity labs include cellular reprogramming, tissue regeneration, brain rewiring, biological age reversal, prime genome editing, and NAD boosters.
Setting up a lab focused on these areas requires careful consideration regarding equipment needs and compliance. Below, we highlight the key factors to consider, including commonly used tools and standards and regulations that may apply to longevity research.
Key equipment required for a longevity lab
Longevity research represents an important step forward in understanding the aging process and our ability to intervene to improve health and extend life. Since aging is a complex process, longevity labs use a variety of approaches to identify potential interventions.
Microscopes are important for studying cells and tissue. Many types of microscopes may be required in a longevity lab, including:
Phase-contrast microscope: This uses light interference to enhance the contrast of structures in a specimen. Unlike a conventional light microscope, which amplifies the difference in light intensity between different parts of the specimen, a phase-contrast microscope uses the phase shift (difference in angle) of light waves passing through different parts of the specimen. This allows for much greater contrast, even for specimens such as cells and cell components that don’t absorb or scatter light very differently from their surroundings.
Dissecting microscope: Also called a stereo microscope, a dissecting microscope has two lenses, an objective lens, and an ocular lens, mounted on a metal frame. The objective lens is typically a low-power lens used to magnify the specimen. The ocular lens is a high-power lens used to magnify the image further. The lenses create two optical views for each eye, allowing for the production of a three-dimensional image. This is useful for visualizing surfaces, for example, when examining tissue samples.
Fluorescence microscope: A fluorescence microscope uses a beam of ultraviolet light and a dichroic mirror (which reflects certain wavelengths while allowing others to pass). Fluorescence microscopes are useful for studying living cells, including tissue samples, bacteria, and other microorganisms. They allow researchers to image cellular activity in real-time (sample preparation for regular light microscopes usually kills cells).
Confocal microscope: A confocal microscope uses a laser to illuminate a sample and produce high-resolution images. The laser beam is scanned across the sample, and a detector collects the light scattered or reflected by the sample. The resulting images are then processed to remove out-of-focus light and produce a three-dimensional sample image. Confocal microscopes are particularly useful in resolving the structure of certain objects within a cell. They are used in various disciplines, including stem cell research and DNA hybridization (which measures genetic similarity between DNA sequence pools).
Cell lysis is when a cell's membrane ruptures and its contents are released into the surrounding environment. This can be done through physical means such as grinding or blending or through reagent-based methods using detergents or enzymes. One common cell lysis method is homogenization, which employs a high-pressure, powerful blender to break open cells. This method is highly efficient and can break up large samples in preparation for analysis. It’s often used in conjunction with reagent-based methods.
Certain samples require storage at ultra-low temperatures, including some tissue, cell, bone marrow, and blood samples. A cryogenic freezer can provide temperatures as low as -150°C. They work using a combination of coolants (such as liquid nitrogen or dry ice) and insulation.
A DNA sequencer is a machine that reads the sequence of bases in a DNA molecule. The machine works by separating the DNA strands and then reading the order of the bases. The DNA sequencer can read millions of bases in a single run, making it a powerful tool for genetic research. New sequencing technologies provide researchers with unprecedented insights into the structure and function of genomes. Next-generation sequencers, also known as high-throughput sequencers, can sequence whole genomes in just a few hours.
PCR equipment is used to amplify small amounts of DNA. The process begins with a template DNA strand copied by enzymes called polymerases. These copies are then used as templates for new copies, and the process is repeated until there is a large quantity of DNA for analysis. PCR equipment typically consists of a thermal cycler, which heats and cools the DNA samples to enable the copying process, and a polymerase enzyme mix.
By passing cells through a laser beam, a flow cytometer can measure the physical and chemical properties of individual cells. This information can identify and quantify different cell types, track changes in cell behavior over time, and study the effects of drugs and other treatments on cell function. In recent years, flow cytometers have become increasingly accessible, and they are now being used in a wide range of applications, including cell counting and sorting, biomarker detection, and cancer diagnosis.
Microarray technology allows for the simultaneous analysis of thousands of genes. It works by hybridizing DNA or RNA probes to a microarray, which is a chip that contains thousands of DNA or RNA sequences. This technology affords an in-depth view of the complex interactions within cells and has been used to study everything from cancer development to the response of bacteria to antibiotics.
Longevity lab compliance and regulation considerations
Many regulatory bodies are relevant to longevity labs, including the FDA and OHRP. In addition, there are professional organizations such as the AMA that provide ethical guidelines.
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for protecting public health by ensuring the safety and efficacy of human and veterinary drugs, among other products. In carrying out its mission, the FDA works closely with other federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector. The FDA has a hand in various areas of longevity research. For example, it has published guidelines for human cells, tissues, and cellular and tissue-based products.
The Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) provides leadership in protecting human research participants’ rights, welfare, and well-being in research conducted or supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Office also provides educational information and guidance on ethical and regulatory aspects of human subjects research to the research community, potential research participants, independent review boards (IRBs), and the general public.
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