The Fountain of Youth May Be Flooded With Oil Money From Saudi Arabia

The Fountain of Youth May Be Flooded With Oil Money From Saudi Arabia
Saudis want to live longer, healthier lives. (Photo: Amr Nabil, AP)

The obnoxiously affluent Saudi Arabia is trying to prove that maybe money can buy everything after all, pouring $US1 ($1.39) billion a year into researching ways to slow down the effects of ageing. The gulf state’s royal family started a non-profit organisation that would grant funds to scientists to understand the underlying causes of ageing, and how to mitigate them using drugs, according to the MIT Technology Review.

The Hevolution Foundation will look into biotech that could extend the number of years that people can enjoy a healthy lifespan, and delay the onset of certain diseases like diabetes or heart disease. There aren’t that many details on the work of the foundation yet, but it has been hinted at during several science conferences, according to MIT Technology Review.

One of the main scientists boasting about oil money funding potential anti-ageing research is Nir Barzilai, the founding director of the Institute for Ageing Research, who claims to have discovered a longevity gene in humans that is linked to healthy ageing and longevity of human life. Barzilai has been seeking funding for his TAME study, targeting ageing with Metformin, a medication for type 2 diabetes. Preliminary studies of Metformin on diabetics showed a potential correlation between the drug, and possible anti-ageing compounds that may have caused the subjects to live longer than expected.

The TAME trial has been labelled as the first study of a drug to slow down ageing in humans as the drug allegedly alters the ageing process inside cells. A big claim, but TAME has struggled to find the funding to back up its claim. However, MIT Technology Review is also reporting that back in April, Barzilai told an audience in London that Hevolution had agreed to fund one-third of its cost

So, why is the oil-rich nation potentially funding the ageing-mitigation drug trial? The residents of Saudi Arabia are suffering from high rates of obesity and diabetes, brought on by an inactive lifestyle and an exceptionally rich diet. Saudi Arabia ranks seventh in the world for the rate of diabetes. Around 7 million of Saudi’s population are diabetic and almost around 3 million have pre-diabetes, according to the World Health Organisation. A 2021 study also revealed that Saudi Arabia’s ageing population will increase drastically over the next few decades, with people in the gulf state suffering from high rates of frailty, or physiological decline.

Even if they were to discover the fountain of youth, or rather fund it, Saudi Arabia would still need to do a lot more to erase its contentious history marred by a bloody human rights record.