Posted: Sun, January 27, 2013 | By: Scott Jackisch
I attended my first Health Extension Salon at Y Combinator tonight. This is a movement building group started by biotech entrepreneur, Joe Betts-LaCroix, whose goal is to extend the healthy lifespan of humans to 123 years and beyond. I first bumped into Joe over at Quantified Self and I especially enjoyed his 28-hour day experiment. I am always up for some health extension action and of course I was curious to see what Y Combinator looks like, especially after reading “Entrepreneurs are the new Labor” by Venkatesh Rao. Rao portrays Y Combinator as sort of a next-generation MBA program and the space did have a collegiate air about it… But I digress as usual.
The salon started out with a healthy (but probably not organic), semi-paleo buffet style meal, followed by presentations, then breakout working sessions with socializing at the end. This is a salon for taking action. The ultimate goal is to help develop technology that actually increases human health span. The Health Extension Salon folks have a plan to vet health extension ideas: scientific breakthroughs, folk remedies, cheeseburgers, etc. using public forums. The best ideas will funnel down to the scientific advisory board and then the cream of the crop will be pumped down to the money people to setup various vehicles to develop these ideas further. One such vehicle might be a Health Extension Incubator funded with VC capital. Another might be a non-profit funded with philanthropy money.
It’s interesting that this group seems to have deep ties to Quantified Self. The wonderful Alex Carmichael was there greeting attendees. This is interesting because Gary Wolf told me last year that he wanted to see if QS could evolve into a more action-oriented community. There are many talented and competent people that are part of QS, and I have heard of several projects that were spawned by connections made at QS. It seems that Joe picked up on this vibe and decided to make action a core value of this new community. Enough yakking people, let’s do this.
Now you might be asking yourself, “What is this ‘Health Extension’ you speak of?” Well, see we used to call this stuff “Life Extension” but we kept getting funny looks. Normal people and scientists alike would smile nervously and edge toward the nearest exits. Even though life expectancy has more than doubled in the past century, the maximum lifespan has increased at a more modest rate. The verified oldest human was 122 years old when she died in 1997 which is only about 20 years older than the oldest human in 1798 who was 103 years old. So the average person is living longer, but the oldest people aren’t getting much older. Also, it turns out that people are more open to longer life if they consider the possibility of retaining health as they age.
Realistically, it’s improbable that we will see dramatic life extension in the near term. But even now, we can help more people stay healthier later in life. Diet and exercise blah blah blah. The Health Extension Salon folks want to push the boundaries of health extension interventions beyond the current standards. The first presenters at last night’s salon reviewed highlights from the Foresight conference this year. I covered that pretty thoroughly already, so I won’t rehash that here. I will say that one of the presenters echoed Stephenson’s theme that futurists need to focus on happy utopia stories so that money people will contribute to health extension research. This idea annoys me for two reasons: first futurists (and SciFi writers) who are negative are responding to the mood of their time and secondly, money people (and SciFi readers) are rightfully wary of anyone who has obviously been drinking too much kool-aid.
But anyway, the featured presenter of the evening was Stuart Kim of Stanford. His lab studies the genetic component of aging. Kim discussed some work sequencing the genomes of supercentenarians but it is unpublished, so I will say no more. However, I will engage in wild speculation and imagine how cool it would be if they could locate a supercentenarian gene and hand it over to George Church to plug it into his CRISPR gene editor. Boom, bio-hack to turn on live-to-old-age mode, so much cooler than god-mode. Of course I would want version 3.0. Who know what havoc this gene-editing roulette might wreak?
After the presentations, I sat in on the Media group and we plotted a media strategy to help fulfill the Health Extension Salon mission. I hear social is big now. The other teams meeting last night were community, information, and science. I enjoyed myself and I look forward to helping out and possibly blogging for the Health Extension Salon. I guess I will need to tighten up my scientific research first though. I don’t want to come across like a grinder or something.