Peter Thiel has some wild ideas, but transfusing teen blood into his own body might not be his bag.
Update: Correction below
Stories of countesses bathing in virgin blood, or vampiric nobles sucking the juice out of the young, have captured our attention for centuries. But when stories started coming out that tech billionaire Peter Thiel was interested in transfusing teen blood into his own body, it sent Silicon Valley into a fever dream. Peter Thiel, the vampire!
Thiel has been alleged to have a lot of crazy ideas — like that women shouldn’t have been given the vote or that we should create lawless floating nations to solve society’s problems. The coup de grâce appeared to be Thiel’s role in toppling Gawker 10 years after the media company wrote openly about his sexuality.
Then, of course, he joined Trump, a pariah in the tech world. No wonder everyone was quick to believe that Thiel would be willing to suck the blood of the young if it added a few more years to his own life.
Inc. wrote that Thiel was so afraid of dying that he was looking at “having younger people’s blood transfused into his own veins.” The story reported that Thiel Capital medical director Jason Camm (who is also an angel investor) had even contacted a startup called Ambrosia that was harvesting the blood of teens.
In short order, Vanity Fair, Gawker and numerous other media sites repeated the story. Ambrosia received so much press attention that founder Jesse Karmazin was even invited to talk about his work at Recode’s recent Code Conference. Meanwhile, an episode of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” poked fun at the unsettling idea.
But the story that took shape, that Thiel was looking to harvest the blood of the young, simply isn’t true, according to Karmazin. “I wish I did know Peter Thiel,” he said. “He’s not even a patient. If he were, I would have to say ‘We can’t disclose that information.’ But he’s not even a patient so I can tell you, he’s not a patient’.”
Unquestionably, Thiel has been interested in cheating death for several years. He told Business Insider back in 2012, “Death is a problem that can be solved.” He’s also investing in life extension research, funding Cynthia Kenyon, Aubrey de Grey and a number of other researchers who are focused on anti-aging. Last fall, the life extension startup Unity Biotechnology also raised an enormous round of funding from Thiel and other Silicon Valley billionaires interested in the prospect of humans living much longer lives.
Ambrosia — which takes donated teen blood and pumps it into anyone age 35 or older for $8,000 a pop — seems like just the type of wild startup that would interest Thiel.
As questionable as the idea sounds, blood from the young is not new. The process, known as parabiosis, has at least been successful in mice. Karmazin also says he’s seen his own patients’ hair return from gray back to its original color, and he says he has noted a remarkable difference in pep in the 600 or so people now going through treatment in his facility.
Contrary to the depiction in “Silicon Valley,” however, Ambrosia cannot directly hire the teens. Due to fairly strict regulations, people can’t be compensated for their blood, so the startup relies heavily instead on donor facilities.
It’s also a very experimental procedure for humans at this point, with repeated sessions needed to keep up the effects, Karmazin says. (“You don’t look like you are 20 after one treatment,” he tells me.)
That’s saying nothing of the fact that the process can be duplicated. Anyone with a certain medical understanding could set up their own shop and charge people for the same service. Asked about the challenge, Karmazin says Ambrosia is by design “not structured as a money-making operation.”
The risks associated with blood transfusions also sound pretty risky and the pay-to-play aspect of Ambrosia has drawn criticism in the science world. Others have called into question the idea of filling old people’s veins with teen blood as an anti-aging solution.
Still, Karmazin is hopeful he’ll have some good results from a preliminary human trial in the next year. As for the media frenzy, Karmazin says the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad press is true, and that all the wild stories have led to a lot of inquiry.
“It’s amazing how many journalists just repeat what they’ve read,” he says.
Update: An earlier version of this story misrepresented reporting of Inc. by stating that Thiel Capital was looking to invest in Ambrosia. In a story titled, “Peter Thiel Is Very, Very Interested in Young People’s Blood,” Inc reported instead that a Thiel associate expressed interest in what the company was doing. Ambrosia Jesse Karmazin maintains this was never the case.