As anyone who's observed their heart rate spiking on their Apple Watch (hey, you can rent one here) knows, blood plays a big part in our vitality.A lot of what we do to "keep young" is to do with blood: exercising to get it flowing, eating well to avoid clogged arteries, taking aspirin to keep the blood nice and thin.
So what if the key to a long life involved blood - but just not your own? Joe Sparrow finds out that in the search for youthfulness, researchers may have found a magic potion: young people's blood...
Modern-day billionaires don’t come much more interesting than Peter Thiel.
He co-founded one internet monolith (Paypal), spotted the early investment potential in another (Facebook - you may have heard if it), created a data company that nosey government agencies love (Palantir - even if you've not heard of it, they've probably heard of you), and, as a consequence, is filthy stinking rich.
Money brings you a lot in life, but if home-spun wisdom has taught us anything, it’s that “you can’t take it with you.” Peter Thiel, according to some tasty media stories, is eager to push that final destination as far away as possible.
And to make what he wants in life to happen, Peter Thiel is thirsty: thirsty for what he sees as justice (he paid to defend Hulk Hogan’s case in court against Gawker Media, which eventually was crushed to smithereens) but also thirsty for young people’s blood.
It's all resulted in some... intriguing headlines.
Or he’s not, according to which outlet you read:
Hey, hang about a minute...
Hmm. I guess the story you believe depends upon whether, in your opinion, a Trump-supporting Libertarian billionaire would consider harvesting youthful human blood a prudent investment.
Either way, whether he really does, as Gawker reported, “spend $40,000 per quarter to get an infusion of blood from an 18-year-old based on research conducted at Stanford on extending the lives of mice,” or not, Thiel is, as usual, onto something.
If you’re being mocked by the hit TV show Silicon Valley, you may or may not be crazy, but at the very least you are definitely on the bleeding edge.
Either way, in the centre of the Venn diagram between cutting edge technology, billionaires' eagerness to tweak their bodies, and the sticky red stuff, something bloody interesting is definitely going on.
So what will the future hold for BloodTech? And what does it mean for us non-billionaire normies?
First Blood, Part II
So why the focus on blood? Surely the possibilities offered by re-growing and replacing human organs or simply living forever offers greater impact - after all, we’ll all need a new liver or heart or kidney at some point.
But it turns out that blood is sloshing with a huge number of enzymes and molecules that do miraculous things - the consequences of which we are only just getting to grips with.
Blood isn’t just endlessly replaced red gloop - it gets old too. And as it gets old it gets less useful. And when blood stops being useful, you stop being alive. And that’s, you know, a problem.
“Young Blood” may sound like the name of an identikit SoundCloud rapper (actually, Young Blood really is a hip-hop artist on SoundCloud, and is worth a listen) but the idea of squeezing in a quart of someone else's plasma is worthy of your attention.
On a very basic but important level, young blood = young body parts. Scientists thought that as bones get older, they get worse at healing themselves - but it turned out that the bones could heal just fine: it was the blood that wasn’t doing its job.
And while the likes of Peter Thiel may (LAWYER'S NOTE: or may not) be getting transfusions from their Blood Boy, the most interesting part of this research – for the rest of us – is that the difference between old and new blood is just a molecule or two.
Find a way to reintroduce that molecule into the bloodstream and bones can heal themselves again, and we’ll all be youthful forever.
Young, at heart
None of this should be too shocking: the rejuvenating effect of young blood in old bodies was spotted in some lucky mice who were made young again in the 1950s.
But now there’s a dawning realisation that young blood’s eagerness to return organs to a similar state of youthfulness extends a bit further than giving aching muscles and bones a bit of pep: it might have beneficial effects on the brain.
This has enormous implications for people with brain-based conditions like Alzheimers and Parkinson's disease - two conditions that are notoriously difficult to treat.
Because if the secret sauce hidden in our most precious ketchup can bring withering brain cells back to vitality, millions of lives will be changed - and human trials are underway to see if young blood has an impact on muscle motor function.
And just think: if a regular blood infusion could keep the body, the organs and the mind youthful, the more ambitious some post-human tech aims, like the computer-AI-brain interface proposed by Neuralink start to sound.
Neuralink is a pet project of yet another billionaire live-forever enthusiast – Elon Musk, the real life Tony Stark and old buddy of Peter Thiel (spotting a theme yet?) – and the combination of constant bodily rejuvenation coupled with augmented intelligence could be to tempting to let slip.
Not only will we live longer, but we’ll live smarter. It’s the startup dream, made flesh.
Thicker than water
For now, mysterious companies like Ambrosia are pushing ahead with pumping the good stuff into humans. Ambrosia is, according to Quartz, claiming some remarkable breakthroughs: *“a month after receiving a transfusion of young plasma… participants had fewer chemical biomarkers indicative of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain types of cancers.”*
It sounds too good to be true (and indeed, has been called “fake news” by one Stanford immunologist) but right now, to a billionaire nearly the wrong side of 50, it is surely worth a punt.
So what does it all mean for the rest of us? Those other humans, who also have five litres of blood and an eagerness not to die yet, but very little in the bank? Essentially: sit tight and wait, bloodsuckers.
Much like how advanced tech is finding ways to turn the body's existing defences against cancer, our modern technology is discovering that the secret to a healthier future is right under our bleeding noses. And where there's an eagerness to keep living, there's cash, so any useful developments here will happen quickly - hopefully in our puny lifetimes.
In the meantime, as MONTAG’s Kathryn Lawrence found out, there is reasonable cash to be made from selling blood, and in these troubling economic times, maybe it’s as certain a business as a young person could hope for.