Silicon Valley is betting big on the transfusions of young people's blood
A Newsweek report detailing the alleged anti-ageing properties of transfusions of young people’s blood has understandably raised cries of “Alex Jones was right!” The magazine’s marketing of the article was slightly sensationalist; its promotional tweets emphasised the vampirish idea of mainlining the blood of youths while the article considered that as one of many potential anti-ageing treatments.
Still, the theory exists. As the Newsweek author, Adam Piore, writes, interest is mounting in “a hot area of inquiry called geroscience that focuses on identifying beneficial elements of blood that dissipate as we age and others that accumulate and cause damage.” The theory that blood transfusions can reverse these processes has been tentatively tested on mice. “The results were exhilarating,” Piore writes, “They suggested that stem cells could be revitalised simply by reintroducing back into the blood stream the molecules, present in young blood, that could turn them on.”
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Well, humans are not mice — but they are not entirely different from them. The theory has been tentatively, and perhaps presumptuously, implemented. A start-up eerily named “Ambrosia” has been selling blood transfusions for some years, though the FDA has tried to block its treatments on the basis of insufficient evidence and potential harms.
Perhaps it is snake oil. But what if young blood has these properties? Nobody, except Jehovah’s Witnesses, oppose blood transfusions per se. We all acknowledge the virtue of donating blood to fill the arteries and veins of people suffering after accidents or in the grip of illnesses like leukaemia. Blood transfusions as a preemptive measure, though, and with a particular focus on the blood of young people, have discomforting connotations. Dracula is the obvious cultural touchstone to reference, though I also recommend the 2004 Hong Kong film Dumplings — if not on a full stomach. When the billionaire Silicon Valley gadfly Peter Thiel was rumoured to be using blood transfusions, he commented, ”I want to publicly tell you that I’m not a vampire. On the record, I am not a vampire.”
The old “feeding” off the youth and vitality of the young strikes an especially sour note after two years of the young have sacrificed their income and experiences for the sake of the elderly and vulnerable. In a time when young people are increasingly arm-twisted into racking up piles of debt for the sake of a pyramid scheme built on credentialism, only to find themselves priced out of the housing market, a focus on prolonging rather than enriching life runs into well-earned cynicism. Sneers are bound about baby boomers who want to cheat death are bound to occur.
Of course, people who lament the trials of youth today will lament the trials of age tomorrow. The seriousness of physical and mental decline mounts in our consciousness as it approaches. Perhaps when a few more lines have been carved into my brow, the idea of anti-ageing blood transfusions will turn from “strange and creepy” to “exciting and inspirational”. Still, a focus on extending life should not obscure the more significant question of how to live it. Quality matters as well as quantity.