OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has invested a whopping $180 million in a startup called Retro Biosciences that's looking for novel ways to extend human longevity.
As Bloomberg reports, the company has an unusual way of exploring new treatments: it's investigating not just one area of research, but five — an extremely costly and high-risk approach in the world of anti-aging science.
Altman, who recently was fired and promptly reinstated at OpenAI, gave Retro cofounder Joe Betts-LaCroix an immense opportunity.
"Sam was willing to do something different and throw lots of money at a bunch of things in parallel," Betts-LaCroix told Bloomberg, referring to his support as "freaking awesome" and "cool."
But considering the sheer risks involved, we're unlikely to see potential life extension research being tried out on humans any time soon.
Case in point, one avenue of research being investigated by Retro Biosciences is reprogramming damaged or decayed cells to revert them to a healthier and younger state.
However, researchers have run into some serious roadblocks when trying the process out on lab mice. In some experiments, mice that had some of their genes reprogrammed, started growing tumors called teratomas, which can be made up of several different types of tissue, including hair, bone, or teeth.
"There’s thinking that you can inject a virus that will go into someone’s tissues, put the genes for these transcription factors into the cells and express them for a while in hopefully a very controlled way," Betts-LaCroix told Bloomberg.
"You have to stop before you go too far and make a pluripotent stem cell, because it will start trying to grow an entire person right there and form the tumors," he added. Yikes!
According to the report, Retro is undertaking several cell-reprogramming experiments, including one involving human tissues collected from cancer patients. Another experiment is looking to rejuvenate the immune system, which could give the human body a better way to fight diseases.
But whether Altman will be able to benefit from any of these therapies any time soon remains to be seen. The science is still in its infancy, and these are hard problems with significant consequences for failure — or success, for that matter.
Altman is only one of several billionaires betting big on anti-aging research, including the likes of Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel. The industry, however, has become infamous for making unfounded claims and leaning on science fiction rather than actual science.
Whether Betts-LaCroix and his company will be able to crack the code is anyone's guess. Even with Altman's sizable investment, there are no guarantees.
"Getting to the final products will require more investors and going public at some point," cofounder Sheng Ding told Bloomberg. "Sam will not be able to fund this all the way."
More on anti-aging: Zillionaire Biohacker Brags That He's His Dad's "Blood Boy"
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