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The Nosferatu Diet

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Nosferatu-Schreck2

Above: Peter Thiel

We’ve had many ridiculous medical fads in the history of the United States and lord knows we have them today (I for one am shocked at how many upper middle-class white people already concerned with food and bodies have suddenly developed an intolerance for gluten. Talk about a targeted demographic!). So the upper class might as well have their own and suck on the blood of young people in order to stay alive a bit longer. It turns out that Peter Thiel is far from the only elite rubbing their claws together in anticipation of this.

The latest advancement in anti-aging therapies hardly sounds like modern medicine at all. Ambrosia, a startup based in Monterey, California, is launching a clinical trial to inject the blood of young people into just about anyone aged 35 and up—if they’re willing to pay $8,000.

Young-to-old blood transfusions hit the limelight in 2014 when Harvard Stem Cell Institute researcher Amy Wagers discovered that the blood of young mice improved muscle, heart, and brain function in older mice. Scientists sewed the skin of two mice together, allowing their circulatory systems to merge. The surgery, called parabiosis, was first performed in the 1860s but has seen a resurgence of interest following Wagers’s study.

PayPal cofounder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel recently told Inc. that he finds parabiosis “really interesting” and said that his curiosity leans more toward his personal health rather than a potential business venture. This is not the first time Thiel has shown an interest in combatting aging.

Ambrosia is planning on giving 600 patients four rounds of weekly blood infusions coming from 16- to 25-year-olds. Ambrosia founder Jesse Karmazin, who went to Stanford Medical School, said in an e-mail that he was inundated with interview requests and unable to speak today.

The pay-to-play nature of Ambrosia’s trial has drawn criticism from some researchers, and is reminiscent of recent news highlighting the surge in unproven stem-cell clinics that require their patients to pay for clinical trials that may never see data published. The Ambrosia clinical trial lists over 100 blood biomarkers it plans to measure before and one month after the transfusions, but David Glass, executive director of aging research at Novartis, says that because the trial has no placebo control group, it will be impossible to decipher any benefits from it.

I know I get accused of portraying the wealthy plutocrats of the New Gilded Age as monsters and some people don’t like. But then they actually start acting like real monsters.

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  • Murc

    You know you posted about this yesterday already, using precisely the same picture, right?

    I mean, don’t get me wrong, always happy to slag on Peter Thiel some more.

    • for me at least, the information in today’s article confirms that might actually *be* a picture of Peter Thiel.

      this tidbit made me laugh:

      “…his curiosity leans more toward his personal health rather than a potential business venture”

      he wants to keep all the delicious blood for himself.

    • twbb

      I think this is about other people jumping on the stealing blood from children bandwagon.

      Though a different picture would have made it clearer.

      • NonyNony

        The Nosferatu picture is perfect, so why spoil perfection?

        • twbb

          I wouldn’t have mind seeing Leslie Nielsen from his Dracula movie, or vampire Mr. Burns, or just for the absurdity one of the sparkly Twilight ones. Or maybe the Count from Sesame Street?

          • Tehanu

            Count Floyd!

      • BiloSagdiyev

        I think this is about other people jumping on the stealing blood from children bandwagon.

        You mean… the cognitive elite?

  • This also fundamentally misconstrues the mouse studies which led to all this grossness. The mice had their circulatory systems permanently joined, which means the old mouse’s blood was being filtered by the young mouse’s kidneys, the young mouse’s liver was detoxifying for the old mouse, the young mouse’s digestive system was nourishing the old mouse, etc. and so on and so forth.

    Just transfusing blood in one direction is not the same thing at all. It is quite likely that there is actually nothing in the young animal’s blood that, if injected into the old animal, would combat aging.

    • PotemkinMetropolitanRegion

      I just want to reiterate how fucked up the idea of sewing two mouses’ skins together is. I get it, furthering science, but good god I have literally read horror sci-fi where this occurs.

      • John not McCain

        Forget science. Who was the first monster to nail a goose’s feet to a wooden board, stuff it so full of food it’s liver exploded, and then serve the tasty pate fresh from the corpse?

        • BiloSagdiyev

          It is horrifying, but geese, being such charmers, probably made somebody want to do it.

          • Ahuitzotl

            yeah, i can definitely see that. There’s a reason the Romans used Guard Geese not Guard Dogs

        • PotemkinMetropolitanRegion

          I didn’t know they nail the feet. Yeesh.

    • elm

      Right, if rich old people want to pay young people to have their skins fused together, then we’d be talking.

      No, wait, I can totally see Thiel having some small young person surgically fused to his back so that he can live forever. Oooh, ooh. Time to work on my spec script for a dystopian scifi movie!

      • Gregor Sansa

        You joke, but seriously: the technology exists today to graft an old person’s head onto a young person’s body. Not to replace the existing head, there’s no need for that; but to give the young person a second head, probably connected to their chest. Obviously the ideal target would be somebody closely related to the donor head. Or maybe a clone.

        This is totally doable, if you could get some people skilled enough who were willing to violate their hippocratic oath. In fact, if my daughter had some kind of terminal cancer, and money was no object, and she said she wanted it, I’d be happy to host her head.

        • q-tip

          OK WHUT
          (Seriously, details, please. Does the head retain cognitive function? Also, are you younger than your daughter? Also, can I graft my elderly cat’s head onto my chest, or is it an intra-species thing?)

          • Gregor Sansa

            Yes, the head retains cognitive function, as well as the ability to move its face. I am not younger than my daughter but I would want to save her life. Obviously that would be selfish of me as the millions of dollars it would cost to do this right could save more lives as vaccines or whatever. Intra-species only.

            • (((Hogan)))

              Do you have enough blood to keep two brains fully functioning at the same time?

              • tsam

                He’s Nosferatu. He gots vast tracts of blood.

                • los

                  build the wall to stop the binders full of blood!

        • Zaphod Beeblebrox

          Tanned, rested and ready to take over the GOP ticket

        • Lord Typhon would like a word.

      • wjts

        Thiel having some small young person surgically fused to his back so that he can live forever. Oooh, ooh. Time to work on my spec script for a dystopian scifi movie!

        Too late. Clanbook: Tzimisce beat you to it almost 20 years ago.

    • SP

      Obviously the company is selling the wrong treatment- they need to sew a young mouse onto the backs of the patients in the trial.

    • LosGatosCA

      Basically the older mouse becomes a parasite on the younger mouse.

      That’s much more attractive.

      • Ahuitzotl

        Well, Thiel’s already a parasite on society, so it’s a small step for him

    • SamInMpls

      Thiel is a very rich guy whose interests include seasteading, life extension and funding litigation to destroy media outlets.

      He is a kind, noble and honorable man. I am certain he has never entertained the idea of harvesting organs. Unpossible.

      • BobOso

        “Ambrosia, a startup based in Monterey, California…” Ambrosia was nectar of the gods-right? Ah, I see what they did there!

        • The Temporary Name

          It should have been called Ichor.

      • The Pale Scot

        I’ve been eagerly awaiting the sea steading.

        Large ocean going structures with no engineering standards (regulation damn it!), what could go wrong?

        • los

          Go full Galt by floating the protoype off the Somali coast. Just a commute away from the benefits of land, without the taxes!

      • NBarnes

        If Peter Thiel didn’t exist, Charlie Stross would have to invent him.

        • Ahuitzotl

          are you sure he didnt?

    • NonyNony

      Right. What the research basically seems to say is that you can actually get some measure of rejuvenation by having two systems work in parallel (of course left unsaid by all of this is that, IIRC, the young mouse exhibited some signs of premature aging too, meaning that you don’t get something for nothing here).

      Why people would immediately jump to “blood transfusions” rather than “whole organ transfusions” is beyond me, except for the fact that selling rich old guys the promise of an easy fountain of youth is probably a whole lot easier if it involves a blood transfusion rather than major organ surgeries.

      • PotemkinMetropolitanRegion

        I wonder where the archetypal myth of a monster that can feed on the life force of others to prolong its own life comes from. Kinda weird that this experiment confirms it, if in a very limited way.

    • It is quite likely that there is actually nothing in the young animal’s blood that, if injected into the old animal, would combat aging.

      The original researcher claimed that the purported benefit was brought about by a specific protein in the blood, which had beneficial effects on its own when injected.
      Other people’s attempts to replicate that part of the story failed dismally. This does not inspire faith in Wager’s experimental competence.

      • Ahuitzotl

        but does increase enthusiasm to have him experiment on Thiel

  • epidemiologist

    This study sounds like scammy garbage. There’s really not much to suggest that this treatment, if that’s what it is, is ready for use in humans, and a study using blood transfusions won’t sort out what, if anything, is effective about this procedure. That would be the case even if there were a control group.

    When I have worked on clinical trials we always try to get everything paid for for the subject, even stuff they would have had done anyway. For example if the study involves altering a planned procedure in some way and they agree to participate, then the procedure is paid for. Doing otherwise introduces an obvious and unnecessary source of risk to the subject: the risk that they will lose a lot of money on a procedure that doesn’t work. It also muddies the waters about whether the procedure is experimental or treatment, and whether the people involved are the subject’s doctors. This is something that’s hard for a lot of subjects to understand even in good studies.

    The good news is it’s hard to see this or similar procedures ever being approved as treatments based on garbage non-studies like this. As long as you’re OK with people getting scammed like this under the guise of “clinical trials”… I wonder who they even got to approve such a thing.

    • Gregor Sansa

      Right. Scammy creepy garbage. The mouse study is interesting science but there is nothing scientific about this human “application”.

    • twbb

      Don’t be ridiculous, how can it be scammy garbage if venture capitalists are giving a 25-year old money based on dubious and ungeneralizable scientific claims?

    • Frequently Confused

      It’s not scammy garbage as long as it’s profitable. That makes everything alright.

      I love libertarian ethics.

  • The Temporary Name

    Human centipede therapy could guarantee the wealthy share only the best part of themselves with each other.

  • Funkhauser

    I get calls from the Red Cross asking me to donate again, because the need is urgent, for sick people in hospitals. I donate when I can.

    So f-ck this company and everyone who works for it.

  • Sounds like a variation of selling plasma, too me. Maybe this is what they intend for the poor after the robots take all the jobs.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      It’s hard to keep track of all the fine things this billionaire has done for the world, but remember, he’s also the guy who’s paying young people to drop out of school.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thiel_Fellowship

      Could these two things be related? It would be irresponsible not to speculate! Also, an undereducated generation desperate for money could increase the supply of rent boys, which also might be relevant to his interests.

      I think we really need to start checking the deeds on dormant volcanos in the lower 48 for evil genius mastermind laaaairs.

      • Ahuitzotl

        Just think of the money you could make getting these masterminds to (serially) locate to Kilauea!

  • Bill in Section 147

    I am sure Mr. Burns did this in a Simpson’s episode.

  • CP

    I know I get accused of portraying the wealthy plutocrats of the New Gilded Age as monsters and some people don’t like. But then they actually start acting like real monsters.

    As I said on another blog recently, simply watching modern Republicans and plutocrats in action gives me a much greater appreciation for the Bond villains, supervillains, and other bad guys of that caliber.

    I mean, remember this gem from The Emperor’s New Clothes?

    “It is no concern of mine whether or not your family has… what was it?”
    “Food?”
    “HA! You really should have thought of that before you became PEASANTS!”

    Yeah, it’s a blatant puppy-kicking line that’s there to signpost to the audience that she’s the villain. It’s also basically verbatim what multiple Republican politicians have said in public.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Yes. Cartoonish supervillainy, like Mr. Burns.

  • MEC

    In E.L.Doctorow’s novel, The Waterworks, set in 1871 New York, a group of aging capitalists seeking immortality fund the research of Dr. Wrede Sartorius into rejuvenation by extracting vital fluids from kidnapped children and orphans held hostage in an “asylum.” The old men faked funerals and diverted their families’ inheritances to underwriting the secret research facility. http://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/19/books/doctorow-waterworks.html

  • A journalist at Science notes that Jesse Karmazin (the Ambrosia PI) puts a lot of credence in earlier applications of the blood-transfusion myth by con-men and scammers in the 1920s. He is a numpty.

    He previously “co-founded a company called xVitality Sciences that aimed to offer plasma treatments at clinics overseas” — it went tits-up immediately.

    He claims that the company’s business model, “which was reviewed by a commercial ethics board used by some for-profit stem cell clinics, doesn’t need approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration […] because plasma transfusions are a well-established, standard treatment.”

    Sounds legit!

    • BiloSagdiyev

      I can only assume that surgical goat ball insertion will be back in vogue soon.

    • The Twittertrail from ‘xVitality Sciences’ (July-Dec 2015) still exists, as a specimen of stem-cell / plasma scammery in its Platonic form, undiluted by any evidential basis.
      https://twitter.com/xvitality_sci

  • AMK

    I 1.How exactly is the FDA not involved here? Are they too busy running after people trying to ship cheap prescriptions from Canada to notice the outbreak of VAMPIRISM?

    2.16/17 year-olds can’t consent to giving blood to this guy, so I would like to know where he’s finding volunteers.

    3. If I were, say, Hamas, I would just need to say Theil is Jewish, and I have myself a propaganda hat trick.

    • The Pale Scot

      IMHO, 16-17 is going to be way too old to be effective. One of the studies on aging showed that as we get older out supply stem cells taps out. And probably the plasticity of the stem cells get reduced also. IIRC the waning of the stem cell population is definitely one of the causes of physical decline of aging. There are just fewer repair crews roving around the body.

      IIRC, a 108 year old woman was comprehensively autopsied after death and they could find only a few stem cells.

      Younger systems may be able to produce factors that slow aging that older systems no longer can, but aging decline is all about the inability to replace cells that have reached the end of their telomeres. Especially in the brain. Trying to rejuvenate cells that are at the end of the line seems to result in a higher cancer risk.

      Sorry for all the IIRCs, I blame the paucity of my stem cell population.

  • Ken

    I for one am shocked at how many upper middle-class white people already concerned with food and bodies have suddenly developed an intolerance for gluten.

    It’s worse for the kitchen workers who have to follow allergen procedures for every “no gluten” order. New gloves, separate utensils, separate plating, et cetera.

    • Ugh. Like gluten is something akin to a nut allergy. Christ.

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