Is Real Anti-Aging Revolution under Way Right Now?
Date: 23 March 2016 Share on Twitter Share on Facebook
Aging is an area of medicine that too often remains ignored, accepted or underexplored. Biotechnology, the use of living systems or organisms in technological applications, may be making a lasting difference to the role that aging plays in the human experience as well as the anti-aging industry.
Many prestigious tech companies and entrepreneurs are investing in anti-aging biotechnology companies or starting them themselves. Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and notable investor in innovative ventures such as artificial intelligence companies, made his venture capital fund’s largest ever investment last year by financing a biotech company called Stemcentrx, which aims to combat cancer using stem cell technology. Similarly, Google founded Calico, a life-extension company in 2013, and 10 of the 116 companies that the start-up accelerator Y-Combinator accepted last year were biotech-related.
A plethora of anti-aging innovations is spurring this sudden interest in biotechnology companies. One is the use of stem cells, hormone therapy and other biotechnological methods to combat age-related diseases. Prana Biotechnology, for instance, uses biological metal compounds to combat damaging and serious diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Huntingdon’s disease, which are known as neurodegenerative – ‘resulting in or characterized by degeneration of the nervous system, especially the neurons in the brain’. Biotime, on the other hand, uses stem cells to treat a wide variety of conditions, from Parkinson’s disease to macular degeneration, which causes blindness in old age.
Beauty in the beast
Another use of biotechnology by anti-aging drugs companies is perhaps the first area of the pharmaceutical industry that comes to mind when hearing the phrase “anti-aging”- cosmetics. Biotechnological applications, such as Botox, have long been used in the cosmetics industry, but are also fueling a revolution in how the industry works. L’Oreal, for instance, teamed up with biotech start-up Organovo to start 3D-printing artificial human skin, grown from tissue donated by plastic surgery patients, for use in tests of their cosmetic products. This method, which is still in the research phase, would have a huge impact on the sustainability of the cosmetic industry, which for decades has been marred by morally questionable animal testing practices. Products themselves are also being revolutionized: Silk Therapeutics, for instance, have found a way to isolate proteins from silk, an extremely potent ant-aging agent for the skin, for use in their products.
A new body, anybody?
More drastic changes to aging-bringing immortality onto a visible horizon – are also underway. The idea of constructing a new body modeled on one’s own is something that hitherto remained in the realms of science fiction. Organovo, however, apart from 3D-printing skin for L’Oreal, aims to 3D-print entire organs made from stem cells and patient’s own tissue. Transplants of these organs would end the deadly shortage of donor organs as well as allowing doctors to test patients’ response to certain treatments before administering them. The most dramatic anti-aging biotechnology of all, however, is undoubtedly cryogenic freezing, which aims to be a cure for death itself. Cryogenic freezing pre-empts technological advances, freezing patients in liquid nitrogen as soon as they die to preserve their bodies, so that they can be brought back to life when technology permits it. Companies have already found a way to turn this futuristic technology into profit: the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, for instance, charges $200,000 for the preservation of a body in a concrete and Kevlar vat of liquid nitrogen.
The anti-aging revolution that is taking place in the biotech industry, just as other technological innovations such as artificial intelligence, poses deep philosophical questions about the nature of life and the future of the human race. However, while life is still short, it may well be a sensible investment for a fast-growing, healthy profit.