C. Zimmer, “One Day There May Be a Drug to Turbocharge the Brain. Who Should Get It?”, The New York Times, 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/02/health/klotho-brain-enhancement-dementia-alzheimers.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FEthics&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=8&pgtype=collection
About the article author
Carl Zimmer is a columnist for the New York Times and has written for the paper for over fifteen years. In addition to having written numerous science books on heredity and evolution, he is an adjunct professor in Yale’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry.
Klotho is the product of a gene first identified in 1991. When tested in mice, it had been found to increase their lifespan by 30% and protected Alzheimer’s symptomatic mice from cognitive declines. In healthy mice, Klotho not only protected against Alzheimer’s, but then went on to enhance their cognitive abilities. Further research has demonstrated Klotho’s potential to treat other neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
Humans with a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s disease generally form clumps in their brain as they age. In contrast, the individuals with the same predisposition but also with enhanced levels of Klotho were found to have no clumps. Findings such as these have prompted the creation of Klogene Therapeutics, which seeks to provide Klotho in a readily accessible form. If a therapeutic version of Klotho does become available and acts as it does in mice, its use to combat Alzheimer’s would be uncontested.
The issue with Klotho as a therapeutic arises in its use as a mental enhancer for healthy individuals. Enhancers are not inherently bad; caffeine is a widely used enhancer that most consider innocuous. Yet, most new drugs are costly and highly limited in supply. Hence, its use would be limited to a select few.
While there are individuals who could clearly benefit from the hypothetical Klotho enhancer like neural surgeons as mentioned in the article, should Klotho be allowed for general use? If so, what can be done about the inequitable distribution that is bound to occur? If not, what about its potential to further society with its use in research and medicine?