Rejuvenation: The Thymonaut
US researchers claim to have rejuvenated nine people. A San Francisco researcher shares his experiences with the daredevil experiment on a small organ, the thymus gland
It's a message so sensational that you become suspicious. A team of researchers wants to have defeated aging: They tested nine men with a mix of drugs that stimulate a gland - the thymus - to grow. Usually, it wears away with age. True, what is in the unpublished study succeeded in reactivating it. The effect: The men were physically younger afterwards than on paper. Our reporter Christoph Drösser spoke to one of the participants in San Francisco.
DIE ZEIT: Mr. Pellissier, how did you hear about the rejuvenation study?
Hank Pellissier: Around San Francisco there are a lot of seminars and conferences about anti-aging. One friend overheard Greg Fahy from biotech company Intervene Immune looking for volunteers at one of these meetings, so I contacted Greg. He said that I was the perfect candidate for the experiment when I was 65 years old.
ZEIT: Have you ever dealt with methods to extend your life?
Pellissier: I'm trying to keep myself fit, I've been a vegetarian for some time, and I'm following research in this area. So I've become like a guinea pig in the study.
ZEIT: They also count themselves among the transhumanists. What's this?
Pellissier: I like to answer this question with a joke: Transhumanists are people who want to live forever and are ready to become robots. That's a bit mean. Transhumanists are interested in the future, and are using technology to extend our lives, improve our brains, and give us physical abilities we do not have now.
ZEIT: So it's not just about a longer life?
Pellissier: Not at all. For example, I first became interested in boosting thinking and founded a think tank called the Brighter Brain Institute. There are also psychedelic transhumanists who want to expand the perception of reality with psychedelic drugs. Others take medications designed to improve brain performance. At some point, I got the feeling that transhumanists are mostly rich white men who want to be 200 years old. That's why I founded a nonprofit association that works with people in Uganda. Their dream is to become 55. It can not be that these advances will only benefit billionaires.
TIME: Did you swallow earlier to get fitter?
Pellissier: I have also taken drugs that are supposed to increase brain power, but I have not become smarter. I drink whey protein and have experimented with Soylent, this liquid supplement.
TIME: Many Americans do that.
Pellissier: I'm not as extreme as others in the life-extension scene who really try everything out. It's funny, a lot of these people who want to live forever, do not keep fit and do not eat properly. At one of these anti-aging conferences someone ordered pizza during the break, which I found crazy. My family is very active. Doing sports and dieting are all practical advice that everyone should follow. But for many transhumanists this is probably too boring.
ZEIT: How did you get the taste for the study?
Pellissier: We have been told that the thymus gets smaller with age. Greg spoke of legendary bodybuilder Jack LaLanne, who died of pneumonia at the age of 96. His immune system was too weak due to age. By treating the thymus gland again strong enough, so you do not die from such infections. My grandmother died of pneumonia, so I thought it would be a good idea. So I became one of the nine thymonauts, so Greg called us. He even made us T-shirts with this lettering.
ZEIT: But you have not been promised to turn back your life clock?
Pellissier: No, it was all about this thymus gland. I did not even know until then that I had one.