(Reuters) - At first glance, “Method for altering the lifespan of a eukaryotic organisms” does not appear to be the kind of title that demands general reader attention. But the implications of this U.S. patent filing centered on a single-celled yeast strain closely related to the microbes used in brewing and baking, are way bigger than beer and pretzels. According to researchers, it could one day lead to treatments for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, slow down aging, or even extend life expectancy.
That may explain why U.S. Patent No. 8,642,660 is the most-cited discovery to emerge from academic research in recent years, according to an analysis performed by Reuters and its sister company Thomson Reuters IP & Science. "I guess people really want molecules that extend lifespan," says the patent's sole inventor, David Goldfarb, who owns four other patents and is a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Rochester.
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As part of its World’s Most Innovative Universities ranking, Reuters looked at tens of thousands of patents filed by researchers at global universities, and counted every time a filing cited other patents as prior art. The results showed more scientists who say Goldfarb’s research influenced their work more than any other recent discovery - 108 citations since the patent was initially filed on Nov. 17, 2010. (Patent data was sourced from Thomson Reuters Derwent World Patents Index, and limited to filings from the period 2008-2012, in order to allow sufficient time for patent examinations to be conducted and citations to accumulate.)
Goldfarb's area of research isn't new, and his patent isn't the first to capitalize on it. Since the late 1990s, the popular press and research literature have devoted plenty of attention to resveratrol, a chemical that appears in red wine, which has been shown to extend yeast lifespan by increasing the expression of a class of cellular regulatory proteins called sirtuins. The resveratrol effect on one sirtuin, SIRT1, was discovered by researchers led by David Sinclair, a Harvard University biologist, who in 2004 spun out the research into a startup, Sirtris Pharmaceuticals. That company was acquired by GlaxoSmithKline in 2008 for $720 million.