UPDATE 1:30PM: I just noticed that the 3 April edition of The New Yorker has a story on this topic titled, "Silicon Valley's Quest to Live Forever," written by Tad Friend. If you have access to the magazine online, you can read it here.
It's pretty hard to go wrong investing in anti-aging products. According to a report released in 2016 by Zion Market Research of Sarasota, Florida:
”...global demand for anti-aging market was valued at USD 140.3 billion in 2015, is expected to reach USD 216.52 billion in 2021 and is anticipated to grow at a CAGR [compound annual growth rate] of 7.5% between 2016 and 2021.”
In case, like me, you wonder what the “anti-aging market” products actually are, Zion Market Research supplies a handy list of some of the most common ones:
Anti-Stretch Mark Products
Anti-Adult Acne Therapy
Hair Restoration Treatment
Anti-Aging Radio Frequency Devices
And that doesn't begin to cover the products and services that fall into categories that sound like science fiction.
Cryogenics, for example – freezing your body or even just your head to be defrosted later when, presumably, new techniques will give you additonal life although I always wonder what people who chose only to freeze their heads would do for a body to go with it.
Aubrey de Grey, a well-known British computer scientist and age researcher believes that in the not-too-distant future, medical advances will stop aging in its tracks.
Several technology billionaires are spending a lot of their money on research intending to end death entirely. Google has backed a project called Calico with the ambition of “curing death.”
As the Washington Post reported two years ago, Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of Paypal
”...and the tech titans who founded Google, Facebook, eBay, Napster and Netscape are using their billions to rewrite the nation’s science agenda and transform biomedical research.
“The entrepreneurs are driven by a certitude that rebuilding, regenerating and reprogramming patients’ organs, limbs, cells and DNA will enable people to live longer and better.
The Washington Post also reported that Oracle founder Larry Ellison
”...has proclaimed his wish to live forever and donated more than $430 million to anti-aging research. 'Death has never made any sense to me,' he told his biographer, Mike Wilson. 'How can a person be there and then just vanish, just not be there?'”
Ellison says outright what other tech billionaires don't quite say aloud, that they are really looking for immortality and some of them are convinced their money will actually purchase it for them.
I'm not going anywhere near the moral, ethical and philosophical questions that raises.
Instead, after all that background, I want to tell you about the creepiest anti-aging project in existence, something I can only think of as the Vampire Project. As so much medical research does, it started with mice.
Two years ago, Nature reported how some scientists were rejuvenating old mice with the blood of young mice in a procedure called parabiosis:
”By joining the circulatory system of an old mouse to that of a young mouse, scientists have produced some remarkable results. In the heart, brain, muscles and almost every other tissue examined, the blood of young mice seems to bring new life to ageing organs, making old mice stronger, smarter and healthier. It even makes their fur shinier.”
Or so it seemed and it is not a stretch to imagine, if this research is successful, young people selling their blood to rich old folks because it certainly would not go cheap.
Farfetched? By last fall, this was reported in Time magazine:
”In the new study, the scientists created a way to exchange the blood of young and old mice so that the mixture was 50-50. They found that old mice had some improvements in muscle repair and liver fibrosis, but young mice experienced worsened cell formation in the brain and impaired coordination, and the declines happened rapidly.
“'The big result is that a single exchange hurts the young partner more than it helps the old partner,' says study co-author Michael Conboy of UC Berkeley. 'That means the negative stuff in old blood is more potent and overriding than the good stuff in young blood, at least in the short term.'”
That sounds like it would put a crimp in the young/old blood transfusion theory of immortality but we would be wrong. At a private clinic called Ambrosia in Monterey, California, right now people can pay $8,000 to have blood plasma from teenagers and young adults pumped into their veins.
Ambrosia owner, Jesse Karmazin says that
"...within a month, most participants 'see improvement' from the one-time infusion of a two-liter bagful of plasma, which is blood with the blood cells removed,” MIT Technology Review reported in January.
Of course, there is a big difference between studies with plasma and studies with blood and MIT has strong reservations.
”Several scientists and clinicians say Karmazin’s trial is so poorly designed it cannot hope to provide evidence about the effects of the transfusions. And some say the pay-to-participate study, with the potential to collect up to $4.8 million from as many as 600 participants, amounts to a scam...
“Over the last decade or so, such studies have offered provocative clues that certain hallmarks of aging can be reversed or accelerated when old mice get blood from young ones. Yet these studies have come to conflicting conclusions.
“An influential 2013 paper in Cell showed that a particular component in young blood, GDF11, increased muscle strength, for example, but other researchers could not replicate the finding.”
Mainly, I am interessted in the elitest conceit of a bunch of billionaires who fund these vampire projects for their own ends when their almost unlimited resources could be put to such great good uses in the world. Here's a video about one of these guys who ran for president last year.