The super rich of Silicon Valley want to solve aging. Is it California dreaming—or can big dough, Big Data and big dreams really beat Death?
The tech titans of Silicon Valley have a death wish. As with most people who like living, they wish that death would go away or at least arrive decades later than it usually does. But unlike most people, Northern California's high-tech billionaires can do more than wish. They're pouring millions into new projects, companies and research institutes to find a "cure" for aging—casting the very process of growing old as a disease.
As Google CEO Larry Page has helpfully pointed out, no one is immune: "Illness and aging affect all our families," he said when the search-engine giant launched its death-defying venture, Calico.
Of course, the captains of digital industry are following in well-worn footsteps. The quest for eternal youth has drawn in the rich and famous for eons: ancient Chinese emperors, Alexander the Great, Ponce de León, Walt Disney. But theirs has a modern twist. Not only are they vying to stretch their own healthy lifespans, but everyone else's, too.
"It's not just about making billionaires live longer. It's about increasing the healthy lives of everyone," says Dr. Brian K. Kennedy, professor and CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.
The non-profit research hub in Novato, Calif., where some 200 scientists investigate various aspects of aging, forged a partnership with Google's Calico last summer. That was after Kennedy ran into its founders at a meeting and told them that their mission to lengthen the human lifespan was "identical to our own."
It's a mission that might have sounded like science fiction not so long ago. But last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first human trial of a drug to slow aging. Metformin, an old generic diabetes medication that has been found to lengthen the lives of numerous lab animals, is to be tested for its ability to delay the onset of age-related diseases.
Officially, the drug is available only by prescription to treat diabetics but, predictably, many people aren't waiting for the results. (Several sites already sell it online as a weight-loss aid and potential longevity booster, though the 60-year-old pill is not without its side effects.)
Still, with the FDA go-ahead, the trial has sent a clear message that aging research has entered its prime. Once dismissed as a frivolous field of quacks and charlatans, serious scientists are now trying to solve the aging puzzle: why does time take us down—and does it have to?
Next: It's not about immortality as much as vitality
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