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Billionaires Scramble For Immortality (Literally)

Money can't buy me love... happiness... or class; but, as The Washington Post reports, the billionaire chase for the fountain of youth may just mean that money can buy immortality. For example, "death has never made any sense to me," stated Oracle founder Larry Ellison who has donated more than $430 million to anti-aging research and has proclaimed his wish to live forever. And doctors seem to be a step closer to performing the ultimate breakthrough surgery in anti-aging (nicknamed HEAVEN): transplanting a human head onto another body.

Peter Thiel and the tech titans who founded Google, Facebook, eBay, Napster and Netscape are using their billions to rewrite the nation’s science agenda and transform biomedical research. As The Washington Post reports, their objective is to use the tools of technology — the chips, software programs, algorithms and big data they used in creating an information revolution — to understand and upgrade what they consider to be the most complicated piece of machinery in existence: the human body.

 

While most are rightly skeptical about achieving immortality; science and technology could help us live longer, to, say, 150 years?

 

The entrepreneurs are driven by a certitude that rebuilding, regenerating and reprogramming patients’ organs, limbs, cells and DNA will enable people to live longer and better. The work they are funding includes hunting for the secrets of living organisms with insanely long lives, engineering microscopic nanobots that can fix your body from the inside out, figuring out how to reprogram the DNA you were born with, and exploring ways to digitize your brain based on the theory that your mind could live long after your body expires.

 

“I believe that evolution is a true account of nature,” as Thiel put it. “But I think we should try to escape it or transcend it in our society.”

 

Oracle founder Larry Ellison has proclaimed his wish to live forever and donated more than $430 million to anti-aging research. “Death has never made any sense to me,” he told his biographer, Mike Wilson. “How can a person be there and then just vanish, just not be there?”

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And now, as RT reports, perhaps the ultimate 'fix' for an ailing body is about to come true...

Doctors seem to be a step closer to performing a breakthrough surgery: transplanting a human head onto another body. A Russian man with a rare genetic muscle-wasting disorder has volunteered to be the first to try the procedure.

 

“I’m very interested in technology, and anything progressive that might change people’s lives for the better,” Valery Spiridonov from the Russian city of Vladimir, told RT.

 

 

Spiridonov, a 30-year-old qualified computer scientist, works for an IT firm. He said that his disease is getting worse every year, and usually people with Werdnig-Hoffman disorder – a disease that wastes muscles – don’t live longer than 20 years, so it would be a chance to prolong his life and help scientific research in the process. “Doing this isn’t only an excellent opportunity for me, but will also create a scientific basis for future generations, no matter what the actual outcome of the surgery is,” he said.

 

The operation is set to be conducted by renowned Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero, who sees the procedure as comparable to space exploration. “Russia sent Yury Gagarin into space with fair chances of dying. America sent Neil Armstrong to the moon with fair chances of dying. And the chances here are much, much better,” Canavero told RT.

 

According to Canavero, the operation is set to last up to 36 hours, and will cost over $11 million. Canavero has called the procedure “HEAVEN,” which is an acronym for head anastomosis venture. Anastomosis involves the surgical connecting of two parts.

 

 

During the procedure, the patient’s brain will be cooled down to 10-15 degrees Celsius (50-60 Fahrenheit) to prolong the time the cells are able to survive without oxygen.

 

The body will be taken from a brain-dead but otherwise healthy donor.

 

An ultra-sharp scalpel will be used to cut through the spinal cord, and a special biological glue will be used to connect the head to the new body.

 

After the operation, Valery will be put into a coma for three to four weeks to prevent any movement. He will also be given immunosuppressants with the aim of preventing the body rejecting its new head.

 

Many medics are against carrying out the procedure, with a Californian doctor saying it is “too overwhelming a project to succeed,” while others branded it “too outlandish to consider” and simply “crazy.”

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Finally, WaPo notes that such “moon-shot” ideas are tantalizing, but some prominent ethicists and scientists have been troubled by the tech titans’ unwavering conviction that conquering nature is desirable in the first place.

And there are few checks and balances on such initiatives. Once, two-thirds of scientific and medical research was funded by the federal government, beholden to the public good. Now, two-thirds is funded by private industry, a growing share by billionaires accountable to no one and impatient with the pace of innovation.

 

Zoloth, the Northwestern University bioethicist, said there is a reason why science often moves slowly.

 

“Making scientific progress faster doesn’t necessarily mean better — unless if you’re an aging philanthropist and want an answer in your lifetime,” she said. “Science is about an arc of knowledge, and it can take a long time to play out. Sometimes we won’t know answers for generations.”

 

“I think that research into life extension is going to end up being a big social disaster,” Fukuyama said in an interview. “Extending the average human life span is a great example of something that is individually desirably by almost everyone but collectively not a good thing. For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why we die when we do.”

For Thiel, death is the “great enemy” of humankind.

He said that in the past 25 years the pace of innovation in the biomedical realm has been demoralizing. “Nixon declared war on cancer in 1971, and there has been frustratingly slow progress,” he said. “One third of people age 85 and older have Alzheimer’s or dementia, and we’re not even motivated to start a war on Alzheimer’s. At the end of the day, we need to do more.”

 

For all the thought Thiel has given to how to combat aging, he says he does not have a lot of specific ideas about what he would do if he could live significantly longer.

 

Instead of living each day as his last, he says, he lives it like he’ll live forever.

 

“If you did this, you might start working on some great projects you might otherwise not have attempted because you didn’t think you’d finish,” Thiel said. “You’d treat strangers a lot better because you’d likely see them again. You’d be a much better steward of the Earth than if you thought it was your last day and you were having a crazy party or something.”

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America remains deeply ambivalent about using new medical treatments to live radically longer lives.