Everyone has to go sometime, but Hank Pellissier doesn’t want to. The Californian is the subject of a special rejuvenation treatment: researcher Greg Fahy claims to have made him younger. Is the end of life on the horizon soon?
Author: Christoph Drosser
He had managed to make subjects in his study two and a half years younger: Greg Fahy, the chief executive of California-based Intervene Immune, presented these results at a conference in New York back in July. At the time, only experts and a few media outlets took note of his research.
But since in September its article in a technical periodical appeared and the magazine Nature reported on this, Fahy can no longer save himself from inquiries. «The response was explosive", says the researcher.
An unknown organ
The focus of Fahy’s work is the thymus gland. Very few people know where this organ is located: in the rib cage. But it is vital: "Here, cells from the bone marrow are transformed into so-called T cells, which fight against bacteria, viruses, cancer and other attackers who want to kill us, Fahy explains.
The gland plays an important role in the aging process: "The thymus starts to degenerate after puberty, our T-cell supply dwindles, we get sick and we die.»
First mice, then humans
As early as 1986, it had been shown in mice that a thymus transplant could make old mice younger again. Fahy’s goal is to regenerate the thymus, which in older people consists only of fatty tissue, and thus slow down aging.
Fitting the theme
Who will care for us in the future?
Diagnosis: lack of caregivers
He found nine volunteers- he called them the "Thymonauts" – who took a cocktail of three known active ingredients for a year. The most important component was the human growth hormone hGH. In addition, two substances were added to alleviate the side effects of this hormone.
Äusally and inwardly rejuvenated
One of the subjects was Hank Pellissier, a now 67-year-old Californian. The has long counted himself among the transhumanists trying to leave behind our transient life form (see text box below). He was therefore immediately ready to act as a guinea pig.
He noted that as the experiment progressed, he felt stronger and stronger- which is not surprising, because the growth hormone makes the muscles swell. But there were other effects.
His mother noted that brown hair began to sprout again on a bald spot on his otherwise graying skull. And there was another strange side effect: "I was sometimes overwhelmed by music and literally started crying, for example in the supermarket.", tells Pellissier. «I felt the music deeper than ever before.»
Transhumanists: against transience
Why should we be limited by the frailty of our bodies?? Anti-aging research is booming, especially in the Silicon Valley start-up scene. Various biotech companies are tinkering with ways to slow down the aging process- partly with absurd methods.
They meet with approval: In Silicon Valley, many see themselves as "transhumanists". They want to extend the lifespan of humans and at some point make them one with the machines they have created.
They experiment with food supplements, put their bodies on a starvation diet. And when they die, many want to be frozen, to be brought back to life later on.
Hank Pellissier, the subject in Fahy’s study, also counts himself among this movement. However, he also criticizes them as elitist: "The scene is full of rich white men who want to live to be 200 years old.»
Two and a half years younger
The fMRI scanner showed that the subjects’ thymus gland had grown significantly again. Then Greg Fahy determined the biological age of his subjects using several epigenetic tests. This involves a kind of marker in the genetic material that changes over the course of a lifetime.
The amazing result: At the end of the experiment, the bodies of his test subjects were one and a half years younger than at the beginning of the experiment. If one takes into account that a calendar year had passed in between, the net effect is even two and a half years.
Fahy now wants to quickly conduct new and larger series of tests with more diverse groups of subjects. Because he does not test newly developed drugs, but uses approved substances, his series of experiments are quickly approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And, of course, he and his company want to sell the drug cocktail eventually.
A turning point?
«If we’re right, this could be a turning point in human history", enthuses Greg Fahy. «Never before has aging been reversed in animals, let alone humans, according to this recognized standard.»