More than anything, Peter Thiel, the billionaire technology investor and Donald Trump supporter, wants to find a way to escape death. He’s channeled millions of dollars into startups working on anti-aging medicine, spends considerable time and money researching therapies for his personal use, and believes society ought to open its mind to life-extension methods that sound weird or unsavory.
Speaking of weird and unsavory, if there’s one thing that really excites Thiel, it’s the prospect of having younger people’s blood transfused into his own veins.
That practice is known as parabiosis, and, according to Thiel, it’s a potential biological Fountain of Youth–the closest thing science has discovered to an anti-aging panacea. Research into parabiosis began in the 1950s with crude experiments that involved cutting rats open and stitching their circulatory systems together. After decades languishing on the fringes, it’s recently started getting attention from mainstream researchers, with multiple clinical trials underway in humans in the U.S. and even more advanced studies in China and Korea.
Considering the science-fiction promise of parabiosis, the studies have received notably little fanfare. But Thiel has been watching closely.
Thiel and Ambrosia.
In Monterey, California, about 120 miles from San Francisco, a company called Ambrosia recently commenced one of the trials. Titled “Young Donor Plasma Transfusion and Age-Related Biomarkers,” it has a simple protocol: Healthy participants aged 35 and older get a transfusion of blood plasma from donors under 25, and researchers monitor their blood over the next two years for molecular indicators of health and aging. The study is patient-funded; participants, who range in age from late 30s through 80s, must pay $8,000 to take part, and live in or travel to Monterey for treatments and follow-up assessments.
Ambrosia’s founder, the Stanford-trained physician Jesse Karmazin, has been studying aging for more than a decade. He became interested in launching a company around parabiosis after seeing impressive data from animals and studies conducted abroad in humans: In one trial after another, subjects experience a reversal of aging symptoms across every major organ system. While the mechanisms at play aren’t totally understood, he said, young organisms’ blood not only contains all sorts of proteins that improve cell function; somehow it also prompts the recipients’ body to increase its production of those proteins.
“The effects seem to be almost permanent,” he says. “It’s almost like there’s a resetting of gene expression.”
While Ambrosia advertised the study to attract participants, it didn’t seek broader coverage. So Karmazin was somewhat surprised to get a message from Jason Camm, chief medical officer at Thiel Capital, who expressed interest in what the company was doing. (Karmazin said he hasn’t reached out to any investors: “I’d really want to talk about what the business model would be.”)