Crypto millionaires are funding research to reverse the aging process

A disruptive age.
A disruptive age.
Image: AP Photo/Steven Senne
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Silicon Valley’s elite is famously fascinated by the promise of extreme lifespan extension—if not outright immortality. Research on these issues has drawn funding from the likes of Google, while the Bay Area’s Unity Biotechnology, which is developing drugs to treat diseases that accompany aging, has also raised a bunch of money. Now, the sci-fi-like cause is attracting a new group of benefactors: cryptocurrency tycoons.

Millionaires whose fortunes stem from the crypto boom are donating to studies that longevity guru Aubrey de Grey says could extend healthy human lives for thousands of years. Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin recently gave $2.4 million worth of ether to the nonprofit SENS Research foundation, where de Grey is chief science officer, to help develop rejuvenation biotechnologies. An anonymous crypto philanthropy called Pineapple Fund has also contributed.

It’s not surprising the crypto community would take interest in this research, according to de Grey, speaking in a podcast with Sunday Times reporter Danny Fortson. Early adopters “are bound to be people who very heavily intersect with people who are interested in technological progress,’’ said de Grey, 54, who previously worked in artificial intelligence and has a PhD from the University of Cambridge. Young people are more open to the idea that aging is “a really important, solvable problem.”

Buterin, for example, is 24 years old and co-founded the second-most valuable cryptoasset. In a statement announcing his donation, Buterin applauded SENS Research’s “focus on creating solutions to the diseases of aging, one of the greatest problems facing humanity.”

The nonprofit has received a total of about $6.5 million worth of bitcoin and ether since mid-December, de Grey said. The foundation immediately sells its crypto donations, typically for dollars, because as a nonprofit it’s prohibited from financial speculation. The foundation has a $4 million annual budget.

For de Grey, the goal is to advance technology fast enough to stay one step ahead of the aging problem, according to his interview with the Sunday Times. He thinks there’s about a 50% chance that the foundation will prove the viability of its efforts using lab mice in the next five years, which will usher in a “war on aging.”

“It all depends on how soon we make the key breakthroughs,” he said, describing the research as an all-or-nothing proposition. In the future, he added, the human lifespan will either be measured in two digits or four digits.

(Correction: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect amount of donations from crypto investors in the fifth paragraph. It is $6.5 million.)