A Certain Type of Media Outlet that Chooses to Generate Confusion About Longevity Science

There is a certain type of media entity and journalist that really only cares about name dropping the wealthy and the famous, and has absolutely no interest in accuracy, education, understanding, factual conveyance of information, all of those pleasant things that make the world turn. Thus there will continue to be articles about ongoing intitiatives relating to aging, such as the one I'll reluctantly point out today, that are abysmal. This sort of article is abysmal because it actively, willfully conflates a whole set of very different activities with very different merits under one heading, while appealing to lowest common denominator sentiments such as mocking the wealthy, class envy, and so forth. It is lazy, it is writing that makes the space of information about the topic worse, it is a harmful influence on the world.

Of the projects mentioned, research into epigenetic reprogramming such as that conducted by Altos Labs has the greatest merit. It may plausibly lead to forms of rejuvenation therapy. It is likely that the smaller companies in the industry will make faster progress towards first generation reprogramming therapies in the clinic than the larger groups such as Altos Labs, because sizable funding tends to come attached to sizable risk-aversion, but the larger groups will fill in the gaps, sustain ongoing efforts through the inevitable missteps and failures, and enable a much improved second generation of therapies. This is just one class of therapy. There are many others, each with their own segment of the industry, and which could sustain a book-length treatment of what it is they do, why they do it, and what their prospects are.

Research and development of therapies is very different activity to that of motivated self-experimenters such as Bryan Johnson. Carrying out single participant studies on oneself can have merit, in the sense of attracting attention to possible interventions that should be given more attention by academia and industry. The results generated by a single individual form an anecdote, not data, but if it can inspire funding for a larger trial that produces actionable data, then the single person effort was useful. Bryan Johnson appears to want to answer the question of just how far one could go to optimize the state of aging in a 40-something individual. We know that physically active hunter-gatherer populations do very well in comparison to sedentary first world populations as one progresses into the 40s and beyond. But can one use presently available techniques to go beyond that, and by how much? To the degree that Johnson inspires clinical trials and greater investment into some of the interventions that has has used, then good for him. Everything else is just a high profile hobby.

The challenge inherent in being 40-something or 50-something and in good shape is that there are many questions one can't answer in any reasonable amount of time regarding the usefulness of specific approaches to the treatment of aging. A person of this age and health status just doesn't exhibit a large enough burden of damage and change, and it is presently poorly understood as to exactly what aging processes are dominant in determining those changes that do occur between 25 and 45. So, for example, Bryan Johnson won't be able to add his data to the discussion of whether first generation senolytics are a great idea or not, or at least not for another 20 years or so. He simply doesn't have enough senescent cells at the present time to obtain meaningful results.

Inside the very strange, very expensive race to "de-age"

Whether it's taking a shuttle to the edge of space, buying the biggest yacht, or challenging one another to a cage fight, with great wealth and power seems to come a voracious desire to engage in games of one-upmanship. The Rejuvenation Olympics, an online leaderboard launched by tech millionaire Bryan Johnson earlier this year, takes the rivalry of the rich to the next level. The game? "Reversing" your age. Participants compete not on physical abilities but on how quickly and by how much they can slow their "biological age." It's almost who can be the best Benjamin Button. Competitors do this mostly by adjusting their diets (like which macronutrients and supplements they consume), being physically active, and retesting their "age" regularly. They're not actually reverting to a more youthful version of themselves - that's not biologically possible. Rather, these competitors are racing to see who can age the slowest; as the Rejuvenation Olympics website quips, "You win by never crossing the finish line."

Among various health and wellness fads, longevity is the pursuit receiving much of the attention - and money - from the ultrarich. Last year, according to a report from the news and market analysis site Longevity.Technology, more than $5 billion in investments poured into longevity-related companies worldwide, including from some big-name tech founders and investors. Many of these companies are aiming to prolong life by focusing on organ regeneration and gene editing. The buzzy life extension company Altos Labs, which researches biological reprogramming - a way to reset cells to pliable "pluripotent stem cells" - launched last year with a whopping $3 billion investment, and counts internet billionaire Yuri Milner and, reportedly, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos among its patrons. Bezos was also an investor in the anti-aging startup Unity Biotechnology.

OpenAI founder Sam Altman, meanwhile, recently invested $180 million in Retro Biosciences, a company vying to add a decade to the human lifespan. Some of the most famous names in the death-defying sector are old: Calico Labs, a longevity-research subsidiary of Alphabet, was launched by then-Google CEO Larry Page in 2013. Nor is it just Silicon Valley that's excited about the prospect of living longer. Tally Health, a new biotech company co-founded by Harvard scientist David Sinclair - who is something of a celebrity in the longevity community - boasts some Hollywood A-list investors: John Legend, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashton Kutcher, Pedro Pascal, and Zac Efron. Basically, if you're anyone with any kind of serious money, chances are you've thrown some of it into the life-extension industry.