Sam Altman
Sam Altman backs £142 shipping container lab at Retro Biosciences. Wikimedia Commons

Biotech startup Retro Biosciences is undertaking a one-of-a-kind experiment housed in shipping containers, funded by a $180 (£142.78) million investment by tech leader Sam Altman to increase lifespan.

Altman, the 38-year-old tech heavyweight, has been a significant player in the industry. Despite his young age, Altman took the tech realm by storm with offerings like ChatGPT and Sora. Unsurprisingly, his involvement in these groundbreaking projects has propelled him to a level of influence rivaling Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, who is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with OpenAI.

It is also worth noting that the Altman-led AI startup is reportedly planning to launch its own AI-powered search engine to challenge Google's search dominance. Altman's visionary investments in tech giants like Reddit, Stripe, Airbnb, and Instacart propelled him to billionaire status. They cemented his influence as a tech giant who relentlessly pushed the boundaries of the industry's future.

Beyond the digital realm, Altman has been quietly devoting significant time and resources in efforts to reprogram the human body over the past three years. Seizing a brief window during his transition to OpenAI CEO, Altman launched Retro Biosciences, a $180 (£142.78) million endeavor aiming to add ten healthy years to human lifespans.

Can this company crack the code to longevity?

In pursuit of this goal, Altman partnered with Joe Betts-LaCroix, a scientist with training from Harvard, MIT, and Caltech. He specialises in biophysics and computer technology, notable for creating the world's most miniature personal computer.

Betts-LaCroix has long advocated for a more rigorous scientific approach and a focus on "deep biology" to enhance longevity through his nonprofit organization, the Health Extension Foundation. However, he lacks formal training in geroscience.

Being a doomsday prepper who claims to have a reserve of guns, gold, and property set aside for potential emergencies, it is understandable that Altman is concerned about the future. The tech mogul is specifically focused on identifying threats to our existence.

Also, Altman believes that he can address these existential challenges and future-proof our world. Surprisingly, whatever motivates him, the extended lifespan he envisions for our bodies is within the realm of possibility.

Making significant investments in 3 anti-aging methodologies

Retro Biosciences is located in the heart of Silicon Valley, about 30 miles south of OpenAI's headquarters in San Francisco, where ChatGPT was created. Instead of being situated directly in San Francisco, it is closer to the campuses of tech giants like Meta, Apple, and Stanford University.

Retro Biosciences embodies the classic Silicon Valley spirit, with a relentless focus on pushing the boundaries of science. Retro Biosciences' headquarters has a raw, industrial vibe, unlike the typical polished tech office.

It is a warehouse-like space adorned with bold murals featuring plants and scientific equipment, nothing like the usual Silicon Valley beanbag chairs. Their labs are cleverly constructed from ventilated shipping containers.

Employees work at desks perched on a platform, giving them a glimpse through secured windows. The entire aesthetic screams, "Move fast and break things," but with a focus on achieving longevity, not just disruptive innovation.

Retro has divided its goals into three categories since the shipping container experiments began in July 2021. Like the startup incubator Y Combinator, which Altman used to lead, Retro is making separate investments in various approaches to extending human lifespan.

In an interview with Business Insider, Betts-LaCroix described Retro's model as a rule breaker in early-stage biotech. While this field typically focuses on a single, promising avenue and invests heavily in its development, Retro simultaneously places wagers on multiple approaches.

Diving into the research areas

Autophagy: It is seen as the most promising area for a quick aging fix due to potential pill-based interventions. While none are currently approved for anti-aging, existing drugs like rapamycin and metformin show promise in boosting autophagy.

Cellular reprogramming: Although popular, cellular reprogramming is a risky approach aiming to use Yamanaka factors to rejuvenate cells. Retro proposes a cautious approach: extracting cells, partially reprogramming them outside the body, then reinserting them if safe.

Plasma therapy: This research involves diluting blood plasma in mice to improve various age-related issues. Early human trials are underway, including at Retro.