journalist, tech entrepreneur
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In the past few years, you could stumble upon articles about how people are trying to improve their own health and bodies in ways that are not always customary. There was Jack Dorsey, explaining his approach to fasting, former NASA employee Josiah Zayner was using gene-editing technology - CRISPR - to upgrade his own DNA, while startup founder Serge Faguet was busy spending $200k on "hacking" his body with drugs, clever gadgets, and new tech.
These examples are all part of a larger, ever more common trend called biohacking. Biohackers are actively seeking a solution to improve their focus, confidence, intelligence, health, and, of course, life expectancy. These people want to become much more productive, more powerful, more intelligent, and live a very long life.
What is the current state of biohacking? Can people really become superhumans? Who and what is responsible for biohacking and how can you control the risks while experimenting?
I had the opportunity to discuss these questions with Sergey L. Mikheev, MD, PhD, Physician, Cardiologist, and Specialist in regenerative medicine at the Swiss Medica 21 clinical center, who is professionally involed in regenerative medicine and biohacking.
How long has biohacking been around? And what has changed?
The term "biohacking" emerged together with the concept of "DIY biology" in the late 1980s. After some time, in the mid-2000s, it got a second wind in the Silicon Valley tech community when entrepreneurs and engineers began the first experiments aimed at improving productivity and health.
Now, biohacking is an actively developing trend. It is hip, especially in places like Silicon Valley. Biohacking is a collection of methods aimed at boosting humans’ physical, cognitive, and psychological parameters. Biohackers want to be more productive, and they want to slow down or even reverse the ageing process. They want to "hack" their bodies in order to become a more advanced and competitive life being.
In fact, the biohacker's toolkit may already include some well-known tools like meditation or intermittent fasting. Many biohackers are also actively experimenting with anti-aging supplements, nootropics and other drugs. Extreme biohackers use cryotherapy, near-infrared saunas, and virtual float tanks. There are also so-called "grinders," who even implant high-tech devices like computer chips into their bodies to enhance its productivity.
What could some of the real-life results of biohacking be?
To talk about it, you should distinguish biohackers and other people that want to use science to enhance productivity, quality of life, fight aging. For example, there is a movement of transhumanists who advocate the development and implementation of sophisticated new tech that may be able to enhance the intellect (brain-computer integration) and physical parameters (via bionics) of all the people in the world. Unlike them, biohackers are working towards enhancing the capabilities of themselves only. They believe that by being more productive and healthier, they can bring more benefit to themselves as members of society.
In the case of successful biohacking methods applications, the real-life results may be the increase of the human lifespan up to 100 years, while also being able to control some of biological processes in the human body.
Are there any trends and developments in medicine that can be useful for biohacking?
Regenerative medicine is the primary development. It is a branch of research in tissue engineering and molecular biology which deals with activating the body's ability to repair damaged tissues and organs. This involves using stem cells, which can trigger these regenerative processes with no possibility of severe side effects.
These cells are the youngest in the body and have the most significant potential for development. Stem cells stimulate the recovery and update of all of the other tissue in the body. There are multiple ways of applying stem cells, including intravenous, intramuscular or local injections, depending on the purpose. This technique allows humans to become more vigorous in their approach, while it enhances sleep and stamina, and slows down or even reverses aging - i.e., in some degree, it achieves many of the goals biohackers are targeting
Wait, is this reverse aging idea even possible?
Well, to answer this question, you need to understand what aging is from a biological point of view. It is a complex process involving changes in the intracellular and extracellular structures of the body.
During the aging process, the functionality of cells responsible for recovery break down. Gradually, the body's cells do not working optimally, and the quality of their operations decreases. This influences all of the body's tissue and organs. It is known that, as we age, the reserves of the body's own stem cells responsible for regeneration are depleted. This process is currently unavoidable.
However, we can inject the body with large amounts of stem cells to activate the body's ability to regenerate tissues and organs. This, in particular, leads to rejuvenation, endurance, higher energy levels, better potency, etc.
Also, stem cells can help boost the quality of sleep. You need less time to recover your power. The time you need to sleep therefore decreases, but you recuperate faster and better, and you do not want to sleep during the daytime.
Okay. Let's assume I want to dive into biohacking. What should my first step be?
You should start with a full check-up of your body. It is useful in any sense – you'll be aware of the current state of your health. For biohacking, you need to know the starting point to measure your results and effectiveness of any applied method.
Plenty of biohacking methods have no evidentiary basis for now, so people are actually testing them. It is hard to predict the exact result, so you have to control and measure as many parameters, as well as the state of your body as regularly as possible. It is the only way to come up with a set of methods that work for each specific person.
Besides a complete check-up, you will need to consult with several specialists (physicians, endocrinologists, neurologists, nutritionists, personal coaches, and so on). Then you can try to start with stem cells – you will need to go to a clinic specializing in cell-based treatments. The clinic should have a wide range of programs in order to be useful to the needs of biohackers.
If the place offers additional complex therapies, this might be an advantage as well. Check for the availability of methods like:
These keywords will be useful in finding clinics that might be helpful for all biohacking needs. These additional therapies help to improve vitamin balance, trace element balance, and blood supply, ensure normal cellular respiration, normalize the hypothalamic-pituitary system, and improve cognitive functions.
And how often can you use stem cells for biohacking needs? Can this be an ongoing process?
Usually, an average lifespan of injected stem cells is about six months. However, the effect of stem cell therapy can last for up to one or two years. So, there is no sense in having injections more than once every six months.
There are no risks: you can actually can this every few once days if you wanted to, and sometimes this is what you need to cure specific diseases. However, doing it this regularly makes no sense in terms of biohacking, so once a year is perfect for getting sustainable, long-term results.
Also, there is no such thing as addiction. Stem cells are not chemical. When stem cell therapy is provided, only biological, natural substances are used.
It has been proven that there is no risk of long-term negative consequences in this therapy either.
What is the main obstacle preventing more rapid biohacking development now?
The major problem with biohacking is that it’s not affordable yet. This article, posted by a biohacking advocate and tech entrepreneur, Serge Faguet, shows how much money you may spend on it — he put $200K into biohacking experiments prior to getting notable results. Still, you can start with a smaller investment, but even at the beginning, you have to undergo a thorough and costly check-up, do multiple tests, consult with several (expensive) medical professionals to come up with your own hacking plan.
Sure, there are tools like specialized apps for biohackers which may help organize sleep (for example Sleep Cycle) and control basic health parameters (TrackMyStack), and mood (HeadSpace). But biohacking at full swing still requires massive investment.
Can you describe the typical biohacker nowadays? He or she obviously has money, but what else?
Biohacking is about the quality of life, and this approach is used by those who understand that when you have energy and robust health, you can achieve better life results. So, usually, biohackers are successful people who value their time and personal productivity. Biohackers see the connection between personal productivity and their overall health. They believe their investments in health will have a positive ROI.
These people actively follow tech and biotech news, analyze trends, and think about practical applications of the things they read about. You can safely bet that biohackers are ambitious: this is evident as they want to become better versions of themselves, stay positive, enjoy everyday communication with other people, and build stronger relationships.
Could you share any advice on "responsible biohacking"?
You should understand that biohacking is a pretty new discipline in terms of theresearch branch. Nowadays, there is not enough science-backed research proving the effectiveness of any method you might use as a part of your biohacking process. Yes, there are some cases with documented short-term positive effects, like decreasing the risk of developing a disease or reducing the symptoms of depression. However, no results of long-term studies are available at the moment.
It is better to start with methods that have less possible side-effects, like stem cell injections, where there are no potential problems that have been documented. So, pick a clinic where you'll begin to your biohacking experience, and continuously monitor the results together with your doctors.
So, can biohacking have side-effects?
Well, it often involves using prescription-based drugs. These drugs can have side effects for sure. "Hackers" always act at their own risk. Anyone who has decided to upgrade himself to become smarter, more productive, and live longer should understand that experiments with health can bear risks.
Even just dieting or going to the gym can lead to severe damage if the person is not healthy enough. So, experiments involving drugs and other things are even riskier.
Let's talk about the future - do you think biohacking research and implementation will continue to grow?
I believe that the possible future development of biohacking is directly connected to genetic engineering. If people find how they can experiment with DNA, it can have a dramatic impact on boosting health, cognitive abilities, anti-aging, and increasing quality of life.
However, it is hard to expect any breakthroughs in this niche in the short term. Experiments with DNA are costly, and there is not enough research backing them up, so you can't predict the results, and the level of security is uncertain. While these problems are not being solved by genetic engineering, it will be safer to use a regenerative medicine toolkit for biohacking. This will become the primary trend in the next few years.