If you ever needed proof that some punchlines write themselves, look no further than retired Amazon CEO and world’s second richest man, Jeff Bezos. After relinquishing the position of top dog at his staggering modern empire – and to his “shadow advisor” Andy Jassy, no less – the man decided kicking up his feet to enjoy some lawn bowls during the odd 3 PM pub sessions simply wouldn’t cut it. First came the purchase of a 127-metre superyacht valued at over US$500 million (AU$636.5 million). Then came the mother of all flexes: taking a quick trip to space in a metal cock, which pretty much ended before a full playthrough of ‘The End’ by The Doors. Now, in order to complete what I can only assume is a real-life Bond villain training course, Jeff Bezos is funding a mysterious age reversal startup.
Meet Altos Labs – an operation based in Silicon Valley in search of the “fountain of youth” in biotechnology. Found earlier this year, it’s currently being helmed by one Shinya Yamanaka, whose credentials include winning a Nobel Prize for discovering the biological reprogramming process hailed as a potential “elixir of life” back in 2012; something that Spanish scientist and fellow Altos Labs personnel, Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, predicts could increase the average human lifespan by 50 years. Yamanaka has signed on to serve as a senior scientist as well as to chair its scientific advisory board.
“Although there are many hurdles to overcome, there is huge potential,” says Shinya Yamanaka.
“The study of aging, and the idea that you might be able to treat aging as a condition, is a novel area of research,” says an FDA spokesperson tells CNBC.
“A question not yet answered is how many age-related but otherwise independent diseases — coronary artery disease, dementia, sarcopenia, etc. — would need to be improved for us to consider the therapeutic effect an ‘anti-aging effect,’ rather than an effect on specific diseases.”
Incidentally, mortality was a topic Jeff Bezos reflected upon in his final letter to Amazon shareholders (issued prior to being linked with the age reversal startup):
“Staving off death is a thing that you have to work at,” he wrote.
“Left to itself – and that is what it is when it dies – the body tends to revert to a state of equilibrium with its environment. If you measure some quantity such as the temperature, the acidity, the water content or the electrical potential in a living body, you will typically find that it is markedly different from the corresponding measure in the surroundings.”
“Our bodies, for instance, are usually hotter than our surroundings, and in cold climates, they have to work hard to maintain the differential. When we did the work stops, the temperature differential starts to disappear, and we end up the same temperature as our surroundings.”
“Not all animals work so hard to avoid coming into equilibrium with their surrounding temperature, but all animals do some comparable work. For instance, in a dry country, animals and plants work to maintain the fluid content of their cells, work against a natural tendency for water to flow from them into the dry outside world. If they fail they die.”
“More generally, if living things didn’t work actively to prevent it, they would eventually merge into their surroundings, and cease to exist as autonomous beings. That is what happens when they die.”
It’s still a long way from human therapy – although the trial with mice has yielded rather promising results – but if the brains behind Altos Labs manages to stick the landing, Jeff Bezos might actually have enough time to spend all his money.