Can Money Buy You Longevity And Health?
Better treatment options, dietary conditions and (perhaps) less stress could make the life of the rich also healthier. However, when it comes to longevity and aging, do they really have better chances? Can the upper 0.1 percent secure their health for long decades or even reverse the process of growing old? Could society somehow also benefit from the quest of the richest for longevity?
Are health and longevity on the shopping list?
You can have an awful lot of things with money. For a starter, you can buy ice cream or Nutella, which are synonymous to self-love, so the Beatles was only partly right in singing that you can’t buy love. If you’re stuffed with cash, you might afford your very own parking space in downtown Manhattan, it will cost you $1 million, but who counts that if you want to secure a place for your newest Gold Plated Bugatti Veyron? That little toy would cost you $10 million, but that’s still peanuts compared to the History Supreme Yacht that went on the market for $4.5 billion. That’s the entire GDP of Barbados and Latvia, although to be fair to the Baltic country, it was in its least well performing year.
Nevertheless, my personal favorite is the magnetic hover bed that floats in air. Who says the future is not nigh? For a dirt cheap $1.6 million, you can sleep several inches above the ground. Whatever you dream about, someone will sell that for you. There’s an abundance of unique cars, art pieces, islands or crystals to purchase if you are a billionaire. But whom do you pay if you want to live forever? Or just a few decades more, perhaps?
Up to a point, money does matter
Both staying healthy and healing from a condition cost enormous sums of money (well, for the average person, not the Bugatti-buying 0.1 percent). Americans are even worse off than other developed nations as the US spent 17.8 percent of its GDP on health care in 2016. Meanwhile, the average spending of 11 high-income countries assessed in a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association — Canada, Germany, Australia, the U.K, Japan, Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, and the U.S. — was only 11.5 percent.
Moreover, the average cost of hospital stays for cancer patients in 2015 was $31,390, according to government figures — about half that year’s median household income. Moreover, medical expenses are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States, according to a study that indicated about 62 percent of personal bankruptcies in 2007 were reportedly due to medical bills, even though most of those people had insurance — up from about 46 percent in 2001.
It is even reported widely that the differences in the financial background of people cause visible biological differences. Dr. David Himmelstein, the co-founder of the Physicians for a National Health Program and a lecturer in medicine at Harvard Medical School, told Healthline that the gap between the wealthiest and poorest Americans is about 10 years for women and 15 for men, so there is a big spread with more affluent people living much longer than the poorer masses. And some are even expecting the widening of the chasm.
You may lose the battle against cancer regardless of your resources
Still, diseases, especially cancer, seem to take down even the most resourceful and entrepreneurial minds, unfortunately. Steve Jobs, just to mention one of the most brilliant. The iconic Apple CEO died seven years ago from pancreatic cancer. He was reportedly treated for a rare form of the disease, pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. Pancreatic cancers come with a meager survival rate: 75 percent of patients die in less than a year after diagnosis, and 94 percent die within five years, according to PCAN.
Paul Allen, Co-Founder of Microsoft, and billionaire investor died in October 2018. He battled non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma previously in 2009 successfully, but he announced approximately 15 days before his death that his lymphoma had returned. The aggressive disease had taken him down too quickly.
It is not commonplace to emphasize that debilitating medical conditions and death are unfortunately universal: they can affect anyone, regardless of wealth or social standing. Billionaires and their families are not immune to cancer, dyslexia, diabetes – or aging and death for that matter. Although they put a lot of hope into science to change that.
Billionaires get in the fight
More than anyone else, billionaires want to stay healthy and live as long as possible. Preferably forever. They usually pursue two strategies here: some are willing to pay ungodly sums of money to undergo various therapies – even experiments – which promise to make them younger, while others are pouring their dollars countlessly into research on longevity, aging or curing diseases.
However, as The New Yorker’s journalist on the quest to understand the buzz about research on longevity and aging in the Silicon Valley remarked, if we cured cancer we would add only 3.3 years to an average life; solving heart disease could get us an extra four. If we eliminated all diseases, the average lifespan might extend into the nineties. Thus, several billionaires go instead for financing research on how to slow aging and make humans live way beyond 100 while keeping them healthy. Seems just as easy as falling off a log.
Stem cells and blood transfusions?
The anti-aging arsenal is vast and filled everything from face creams through fasting to cryotherapies, enthusiasts have even been organizing a “Longevity Soiree” in San Francisco every year for a decade now. However, one of the creepiest methods seems to be young-blood transfusions. The bizarre concept invokes vampires, the middle ages, and human sacrifice. For example, in the 1700s, Countess Erzsebet Bathory was the ruler of a massive estate in Upper Hungary, and according to the legend she killed dozens of young virgins to drink their blood to stay young and be loved by her husband. Historians say that the Habsburg dynasty was eager to get their hands on the estate, so they spread around some nasty gossips and put her on a show trial with several forced confessions against her. Nevertheless, the story shows that the idea of older individuals getting new energy from the young has been around for centuries.
At the turn of the 20th century, a Russian physician experimented with young-blood transfusions, but he died when injected himself with blood from a student who had both malaria and tuberculosis. In 2005, a Stanford lab announced that heterochronic parabiosis, or an exchange of blood between older and younger mice, rejuvenated the livers and muscles of the older ones. Currently, a Silicon Valley company, Ambrosia Medical, charges $8,000 to fill the veins of people with blood serum from donors aged 16 to 25 to get a fresh dose of rejuvenating energy. The highly popular enterprise recently finished its first clinical trial and plans to launch its first clinic in New York City at the end of this year.
Others wishing to defy aging place their bets on young plasma, stem cells or super pills. Peter Diamandis, the father of Human Longevity Inc, a biotechnology company he co-founded with genomics guru Craig Venter, went on to establish Celularity, a $250 million company, together with stem cell pioneer Robert Hariri. They are devoted to using stem cells to turn back the clock on aging. That’s not the only company promising longevity through stem cells. A number of affluent individuals pay for somewhat shady stem cell clinical trials, which the FDA want to put an end to in the short run.
Pills to take for a long life?
Some put their faith in the power of simple, swallowable medicine. The father of singularity, Ray Kurzweil takes around 100 supplements a day to keep him fresh and energized. He says that around the 2030s, small nanobots will roam around in our bodies and the brain to clean up all the damage that aging has done. By 2045, he plans to upload his entire consciousness into the cloud and unite with artificial intelligence.
Others experiment with powerful drugs, such as metformin. It is a diabetes drug that may extend healthy lifespan. Stem cell pioneer, Hariri, swears by the medication. The most daring are rumored to use rapamycin, a powerful drug that prevents organ transplant rejection. Rapamycin inhibits a key metabolic pathway called mTOR that caloric restriction shuts down, initiating a process where dysfunctional cellular components are degraded and recycled.
In spite of every nice-sounding and trendy looking attempts at slowing aging, Maria Konovalenko, a PhD student in the joint program on Biology of Aging between the Buck Institute and University of Southern California, investigating also the role of mTOR signaling in aging and the differentiation of epithelial stem cells in the airway as part of one of her projects, told The Medical Futurist that the two most potent existing solutions are still – diet and exercise. Existing research, for instance, of Luigi Fontana at the University of Washington in St. Louis, suggests that reducing calorie intake can improve certain health parameters in people. Janet Lord from the University of Birmingham, UK, demonstrated the longevity benefits of exercise, she explained. So far, no drug or young-blood transfusion therapy could undermine this thesis – but what if we only need time and money for that?
Longevity and immortality research lights up the Silicon Valley
Billionaires who started to fund research projects into aging and death seem to at least accept the fact that they cannot solve this issue from one day to another. Nevertheless, they are confident in saying they will have a solution – only the above mentioned two components are necessary: time and money.
The co-founder of Google, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin established Calico to figure out the secret to a long, healthy life by studying the genes of animals which live far longer than humans. However, the company is extremely secretive. The New Yorker said all that’s known is that it’s tracking a thousand mice from birth to death to try to determine “biomarkers” of aging. These are biochemical substances whose levels predict morbidity; that it has a colony of naked mole rats, which live for thirty years and are amazingly ugly; and that it has invested in drugs that may prove helpful with diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel are funding Unity Biotechnology, a Brisbane-based company focusing in particular on senescent cells — older cells that have stopped dividing and appear to be one of the causes of the onset of the diseases associated with aging. Unity keeps on designing drugs and treatments that can make a person functional and free of the diseases related to aging for as long as possible – starting with osteoarthritis as the first condition to tackle. The anti-aging pioneer, Aubrey deGrey, also focuses on an “engineering” approach designed to keep the process of aging below the threshold at which it turns into life-threatening disease. In order to step up efforts, even more, Joon Yun, a healthcare hedge fund investor launched The Palo Alto Prize, a $1 million competition to solve aging. He believes it’s only a matter of time until someone “hacks the code of aging.”
In spite of the publicity and interest among the investor community in aging-related biotech start-ups, though, Konovalenko believes that support has been quite modest so far. The main problem is that the aging research field has only just become ready for translating its first low hanging fruit. There’s plenty more fruit, but it hangs quite a lot higher. In order to get to it, there has to be more funding for basic research. Obviously, people want rejuvenation therapies as soon as possible, but those may be several decades away, she added.
Can you make death a choice?
Thus, despite research efforts and plenty of ideas what genes, cells or processes could take part in aging and which need to be manipulated to reverse the clock – the research community doesn’t seem to be close to a breakthrough yet. And to dampen Silicon Valley’s optimism, we have to recognize that we haven’t made much progress in extending the outer limit of the human lifespan so far. Yes, more people are living longer because we’ve gotten better at nutrition, curing acute conditions such as infections, and treating a handful of chronic diseases. But the maximum reported age at death has plateaued at around 115 years.
At the moment, humanity is much better at ideas presented in sci-fi movies or series than in realistic achievements. We are dreaming about 3D-printed tissues or even organs replacing failing inner bodily structures in the future; or about cloning humans for filthy rich individuals to keep them healthy (The Island) or uploading their consciousness into the cloud while finding happiness in a virtual reality (Black Mirror – San Junipero). Although Konovalenko believes that the first idea about bioprinted organs might help restore damaged or diseased organs in the distant future and as a result, healthspan might increase in people.
However, for the moment it seems that the rich aren’t getting closer to eternal youth and immortality either – no matter how optimistic they are. Konovalenko thinks that they still have to wait at least for another 10 years. The first therapies would be developed against very particular diseases, that’s already on the horizon. I think it’s safe to predict that the first ones can be approved within the next 10 years. It is a possibility that systemic interventions into mechanisms of aging can be developed within the next couple of decades, but they will also be approved against a particular age-related disease, she explained.
And what can you do to cheat fate a little bit and gain healthier years? If you are a billionaire, start investing heavily in basic research into the mechanisms of aging. In such a way, scientists could figure out the secrets of longevity earlier and the entire society would benefit from the new knowledge. This way, Konovalenko says that money can even buy longevity for real. Wouldn’t that be better than purchasing your next luxury car?
Nevertheless, if you have a little less money to spend on science, as a starter, quit smoking if you haven’t done that already. That means 10 years of your life on average! Then, make sure you go to college. Jay Olshanky, professor of public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago suggested that better-educated Americans – those with four or more years of college – tend to live two to five years longer than the national averages. Beyond that – we cannot say anything you haven’t known already: healthy diet, doing sports and plenty of sleep.
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