Silicon Valley’s Newest Venture: Curing Death?!

Google, Paypal founder, and Stanford University invest millions to end the effects of aging.

“Forever young, I want to be forever young.”

When most people listen to JayZ’s hit 2010 single, they reminisce of better times. They think of their childhoods, a period free of disease and stress. A selective few, however, take JayZ’s words to heart—literally.

Can we live forever young?

The concept of anti-aging, or a Fountain of Youth, has been with us for millennia and passed off in recent decades as science fiction. Nowadays, however, more and more biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies have figured out that a huge profit could exist in the in the study of human longevity. Based on recent market studies, the anti-aging market is expected be worth $345 billion annually by 2018.[1]

The race to the anti-aging solution is not at a turtle’s pace. Peter Thiel, the founder of Paypal, recently donated $3.5 million to the anti-aging nonprofit Methuselah to find drugs that cure types of age-related damage like loss of cells and excessive cell division. Through his own nonprofit, Breakout Labs, he has funded dozens of other scientists working toward the goal of prolonging life. Larry Ellison, cofounder of Oracle, donated $430 million dollars to anti-aging research, which he attributes to his “sheer inability to accept the concept of mortality.” Peter Diamandis, the founder of the X-Prize and International Space University, is on board too, offering a $10 million prize for technology that extends the healthy human life span as long as possible.[1]

Perhaps the loftiest of all these ventures, however, is that of Alphabet — in 2013, Google announced the opening of Calico labs, with the mission of curing not just diseases, but aging itself. In September 2014, Calico partnered with the $112 billion biotech firm AbbVie Inc., with the goal of expanding human life spans by as much as 100 years.[4] Anti-aging is an all-hand-on-deck movement, and Google has set out to prove that we can “prevent” death.

The methods used to combat aging have shown signs of progress. In January of 2015, Stanford researchers at the Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology were able to reverse the biological age of 60-year-old human skin and muscle cells by 25 years.3 Using modified mRNA, these researchers developed a procedure to quickly and efficiently increase the length of human telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that are linked to aging and disease. Back in 2012, the University of Nottingham modeled telomere studies after the species with the longest lifespan—the Planarian worm, which can perpetually heal itself and divide.

With profit motives, however, some companies are taking more drastic measures: Liz Parrish, CEO of BioViva, recently became the first human subject of anti-aging trials. Against the suggestions of many clinical researchers, who believe it’s still to early to test on humans, Parrish used gene therapy on herself to alter DNA and combat muscle loss and age related diseases.[2] Dangerous? Probably. The solution to aging is worth billions, however, and risks like these could pay dividends in the future.

Aging is no longer a fact of life. With diseases like Alzheimer’s and various cancers turning into epidemics, the necessity for an alternative solution is key, and targeting aging may be the strategy we need. While we may face factors like overpopulation and resource depletion in an ageless world, those can possibly be solved with a more efficient use of our world or even by space colonization; we’ve found water on Mars, and NASA plans to send humans to Mars—permanently. So what’s stopping us from living forever? We may soon find out.

Welcome to the future, where Jay-Z is king, and we can all live forever young.

References

1          Anderson, K. (2015, June 25). Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin Plan to Cure Aging with Biotech Venture. Retrieved November 25, 2015, from http://moneymorning.com/2015/06/25/googles-larry-page-and-sergey-brin-plan-to-cure-aging-with-biotech-venture/

2          Anti-aging ‘patient zero’ – Biotech CEO tests DNA-altering gene therapy on herself. (2015, October 15). Retrieved November 25, 2015, from http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/anti-ageing-patient-zero-biotech-ceo-tests-dna-altering-gene-therapy-herself-1524103

3          Conger, K. (n.d.). Telomere extension turns back aging clock in cultured human cells, study finds. Retrieved November 25, 2015, from https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2015/01/telomere-extension-turns-back-aging-clock-in-cultured-cells.html

4          Ferenstein, G. (2013, September 19). WTF Is Calico, And Why Does Google Think Its Mysterious New Company Can Defy Aging? Retrieved November 25, 2015, fromhttp://techcrunch.com/2013/09/19/wtf-is-calico-and-why-does-google-think-its-mysterious-new-company-can-defy-aging/

[Image Attribute – Richard Fowler Show]

 

Republished from December 2015