One of the challenges we face in directing fund and attention to the most promising research into human longevity, rather than efforts that are doomed from the start to achieve no meaningful near term gains, is that from the distance of unfamiliarity everything looks the same. The average journalist or person in the street can't tell the difference between SENS rejuvenation research, metabolic alterations with a poor chance of slightly slowing aging after the Longevity Dividend model, research into genetics of longevity and personalized medicine, and opportunists who cloak their old-fashioned health businesses with the mere appearance of modern longevity science. From the perspective of people at a distance it all looks the same, equally valid. Which is far from being the case.
This article is an example of the phenomenon, in which it is a matter of accident and publicity as to whom the author discusses, rather than whether or not their efforts are relevant or effective. Thus what is intended to be a discussion of Silicon Valley initiatives targeting aging and longevity manages to omit the SENS Research Foundation, despite the organization being headquartered there, and spends many of its words on the next generation of self-deluding snake oil salespeople, pushing the quantified self rather than pills this time around.
Asprey is trying to stop individual bodies from aging - starting with his own - and investment is pouring into a growing number of companies whose stated goal is to increase human longevity and, in some cases, even cure death. Asprey freely admits that these are grandiose, quixotic endeavors. But in a place where geeks have changed the world with previously unthinkable breakthroughs in science, nothing seems impossible. "When you're young and you've just created something amazing that makes you a ton of a money, you do egotistical things. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing: I want to swing for the fences. What is all of this cool technology we're creating compared to getting an extra hundred years of life?"
He's far from the only one dreaming of a home run. Last year Google launched Calico Labs, a medical company whose goal is to tackle aging and illness. While so far Calico is remaining fairly secretive about its projects (my requests for an interview were politely declined), experts believe its objective is to go beyond solving individual diseases the way most medical researchers have done until now. Earlier this year, Calico hired Cynthia Kenyon [who] has been experimenting with tweaking genes in animals to slow aging. By disabling a gene called daf-2, she has doubled the life-span of roundworms, fruit flies, and mice. In her new role as VP of aging research at Calico, she will ostensibly be attempting to re-create these results in humans.
This year, another company, Human Longevity, joined the anti-aging quest. Founded by J. Craig Venter, another millionaire entrepreneur, it's central goal involves understanding DNA. [In] some ways, the goals of Human Longevity are in line with what medicine has been trying to do all along: cure illness, improve life quality, and extend the human life-span. The difference is that his company applies big-data tools to process vast quantities of information we now have about the human body. The organization will sequence 2 million human genomes in five years, gathering unparalleled insights into the causes of disease. Rather than tackling problems incrementally, he says it is possible to work on a bigger scale, yielding more dramatic results. One of them could be cheating death.
I brought many of these questions to Laura Deming, one of the youngest people in the anti-aging movement. She's just 20, but she's already been working on the problem for close to a decade. "I was taken by this idea that if you have a vision of what you want to make, you can just build it," she tells me. Deming immediately began trying to fix the problem. At 12 she started work at a lab and enrolled at MIT at the age of 14. Three years later, she dropped out to become a Thiel fellow to continue her research. She has recently started the Longevity Fund, a company that seeks to attract investors to startups working on aging and life extension. Deming points out that people's views tend to change when they move away from big existential questions to imagining individual people instead. While ending death is one part of the story, a more tangible part is curing the diseases that cause death. She believes almost everyone would cure cancer or arthritis or dementia if they could.