Meet the companies that want you to live forever
Our fascination with living forever, or at the very least extending life, goes back to the ancient Greeks, who believed in an immortal soul. While the stories of Ponce de Leon’s search for the Fountain of Youth and Walt Disney’s belief in cryogenic freezing are just legends, the idea of immortal life refuses to die.
Enter Silicon Valley, which has set its sights on extending the average human life by decades, if not more. (It make sense – most founders and VCs will have to live for a long time to see many startups become profitable.)
Take the Silicon Valley Health Institute. The group meets monthly to discuss the study of longevity and “how to reduce the degenerative effects of aging.” The chairman of the board is Bulletproof’s David Asprey, of add-butter-to-your-coffee fame.
After making millions in the dotcom boom, Asprey told Fast Company that he “decided that I was just not going to die.” Today he promotes a biohacking diet and lifestyle that he claims to have helped him lose hundreds of pounds, increase his IQ, and improve his sleep.
Asprey’s company, Bulletproof Executive, sells products that claim to help extend life, and he’s published the Bulletproof Diet book and Bulletproof: The Cookbook. The Bulletproof Diet “is based on high amounts of healthy fats, moderate amounts of high-quality protein, and tons of organic vegetables eaten at the right time in order to create unbelievable levels of energy and weight loss,” according to the website.
“There are two perspectives on biohacking,” Asprey told PBS. “One is that biohacking is something you do to biology, outside of yourself; you’re going to change a cell; you’re going change an amoeba and make it glow in the dark. The other perspective on biohacking, the one where I spend my time, is that you can hack your own biology, and you can gain control of systems in your body that you would never have access to.”
Calico Labs has perhaps a little more prestige and legitimacy. Google established the medical company in 2014. Its stated mission is “tackling aging”, and the company’s founder and CEO Arthur Levinson, wrote “we will explore the basic biology of aging and develop new medicines for patients with aging-related diseases”, in a 2014 post on Google Plus. They’ve made some pretty high-caliber hires including Cynthia Kenyon, a geneticist who has experimented with tweaking genes in animals to slow aging.
Calico Labs has partnered with universities, a pharmaceutical company, and the genealogical data firm AncestryDNA.
“AncestryDNA and Calico will work together to analyze and investigate the role of genetics and its influences in families experiencing unusual longevity using Ancestry’s proprietary databases, tools and algorithms,” according to a 2015 press release from Calico.
“Our common experience suggests that there may be hereditary factors underlying longevity, but finding the genes responsible using standard techniques has proven elusive,” David Botstein, Calico’s chief scientific officer and member of the US National Academy of Sciences, said in the release.
Human Longevity Inc. also works with serious scientists and boasts pharmaceutical company ties. The company was cofounded by leading geneticist Craig Venter and recently announced a deal with AstraZeneca that will allow Human Longevity Inc. to analyze up to 500,000 DNA samples from the pharmaceutical company’s clinical trials. The company has raised over $220 million.
Death defiers will award one million for winning the Palo Alto Longevity Prize, an initiative of the Race Against Time Foundation. The foundation is putting forth what they call an historic mission in line with putting a man on the moon–”hack the code of life and cure aging.”
Their Homeostatic Capacity Prize of $500,000 will be awarded to the team that demonstrates that it can restore heart rate variability of an aging mammal to that of a young adult mammal. The Longevity Demonstration Prize, another $500,000 prize, will be awarded to the team that can extend a mammal’s lifespan by 50%.
Joon Yun, the prize founder and a radiologist who heads Palo Alto Investors, told the Washington Post, “The way we are innovating in health care addresses the consequences of aging, but we’re not addressing the root cause. So as a result of that, we ultimately can’t save people. So people ultimately age, they age out, and they die.”
“The prize is winnable,” Yun told Bloomberg. “But I don’t think we will hit a grand slam on the first one. I expect to be writing lots of checks.”
We will be allowed to age in peace for at least a few more years, at least.
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