Private-Sector Experimentation Versus Washington Inertia in the Fight for Longer Life

(p. A15) Amid today’s technological wizardry, it’s easy to forget that several decades have passed since a single innovation has dramatically raised the quality of life for millions of people. Summoning a car with one’s phone is nifty, but it pales in comparison with discovering penicillin or electrifying cities. Artificial intelligence is being heralded as the next big thing, but a cluster of scientists, technologists and investors are aiming higher. In the vernacular of Silicon Valley, where many of them are based, their goal is nothing less than disrupting death, and their story is at the center of “Immortality, Inc.” by science journalist Chip Walter.

. . .

That is the backdrop to Mr. Walter’s absorbing story, which he begins with a visit to Alcor, the Arizona-based organization that says it preserves corpses at minus 124 degrees Celsius “in an attempt to maintain brain viability after the heart stops.” (Current “patients” include baseball legend Ted Williams.) While this life-extending strategy, known as “cryonics,” is often ridiculed, the individuals profiled in “Immortality, Inc.” are high-status, highly regarded figures whose initiatives can’t be easily dismissed. What links them, writes Mr. Walter, is that “they are all troublemakers at heart.” They believe that the “conventional approaches” of most medical researchers and practitioners are, “at the very least, misguided.”

. . .

While “Immortality, Inc.” is focused on aging and the efforts to defy it, the book is also a gripping chronicle of private-sector experimentation and ingenuity in the face of inertia in Washington. “As recently as five years ago,” Mr. Walter writes, “the great pashas at [the National Institutes of Health] . . . looked upon aging research as largely crackpot.” He faults the Food and Drug Administration for refusing to classify aging as a disease. As a result, clinical trials—the foundation of medical research—can’t be conducted.

For the full review, see:

Matthew Rees. “BOOKSHELF; Birthdays Without End.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Jan. 27, 2020 [sic]): A15.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs, added; ellipsis within paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 26, 2020 [sic], and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Immortality, Inc.’ Review: Birthdays Without End.”)

The book under review is:

Walter, Chip. Immortality, Inc.: Renegade Science, Silicon Valley Billions, and the Quest to Live Forever. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2020.

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