The Man Who Spends $2 Million A Year To Look 18 Is Swapping Blood With His Father And Son
In pursuit of new anti-aging techniques, Bryan Johnson taps his 17-year-old kid to be a so-called blood boy.
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- As fun family activities go, this one is pretty out there.
On April 3, the tech entrepreneur Bryan Johnson, 45, turns up at a health services clinic near Dallas with his 70-year-old father Richard and 17-year-old son Talmage. They arrive early in the morning, and, over the course of several hours, the men (and boy) engage in a tri-generational swapping of their blood plasma.
Talmage goes first, having a liter of his blood removed and converted via a machine into its piece parts—a batch of liquid plasma and then a batch of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Bryan next undergoes the same process and then has an additional procedure in which his son’s plasma is fed into his own veins. Richard goes last and receives Bryan’s plasma after making room for the fluids by having his own blood drained.
At this point, you probably have a lot of questions. One might be: Is this like the “blood boy” thing? And yes, it is exactly like the blood boy thing.
There’s a longstanding public fascination with stories of wealthy tech types injecting themselves with the precious bodily fluids of younger people. Experiments in mice have suggested that older rodents experience rejuvenating effects by absorbing the life force of their younger counterparts. Inspired by these results, some people have opted to experiment on themselves and tap into this vampiric-sounding fountain of youth—although, it should be noted, the science here is anything but settled.
For Johnson, the plasma exchange is not an unusual happening. He’s been to the Dallas-area clinic for several consecutive months and received plasma—not from a family member but from a young, anonymous donor. Johnson carefully screened the donor to make sure the person had an ideal body mass index, lived a healthy lifestyle and was free of diseases.
Johnson made a name for himself in the technology field as the former head of Braintree, a digital payments company that owned Venmo. He pocketed a fortune after selling the venture and started Kernel, a brain-machine interface company. Of late, though, he’s been focused on his body through something called Project Blueprint.
As reported in January, Johnson is spending millions of dollars per year on medical diagnostics and treatments combined with a meticulously crafted regimen of eating, sleeping and exercise to see if he can slow, and perhaps even reverse, the aging process. He has a team of doctors aiding in this quest; through Blueprint, Johnson is publishing the vast majority of his methods and results, hoping others can evaluate and benefit from his work.
In traditional medicine, plasma infusions are used to treat a variety of conditions, including liver disease, burns and blood disorders. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the swapping of plasma entered mainstream discourse. Some Covid patients were given the plasma of people who had recovered from the disease and showed antibodies in their system, although the World Health Organization recommended against the practice in 2021.
The notion of using plasma as a rejuvenation therapy gained traction after experiments in which scientists literally stitched together older mice and younger ones, allowing them to share circulatory systems. The older subjects showed improvement in cognitive function, metabolism and bone structure. There has also been evidence that frequent donation of blood can have positive health effects as you clear out the old and have your body produce new cells and fluid.
Human studies with this technology are rare. This has left scientists and enthusiasts with the mice data, which many researchers view as inconclusive. Some researchers analyzing the longevity field caution against the pursuit of elective plasma transfusions among healthy people. “We have not learned enough to suggest this is a viable human treatment for anything,” says Charles Brenner, a biochemist at City of Hope National Medical Center in Los Angeles. “To me, it’s gross, evidence-free and relatively dangerous.”
Johnson’s medical team, though, has approved the procedure as a possible treatment for cognitive decline and perhaps for staving off Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Since Johnson measures his blood, brain and organ performance in excruciating detail, he hopes to be able to quantify any changes taking place as a result of the transfusions. As with a number of additional procedures he’s pursuing, Johnson has turned his body over to science to push the frontiers of longevity technology and to try to add firm metrics to his health practices. “We start from evidence first,” Johnson says at the clinic. “We do nothing based on feeling.”
The so-called blood boy stigma around longevity-focused plasma transfusions has meant that few people who pursue the treatment discuss it openly. Besides the obvious vampiric quality to the process, the mechanics can seem elitist and unsavory. In most cases, a wealthier person is receiving the plasma of a much younger, less well-off person. The plasma donors typically receive about $100 in gift cards for a procedure that costs roughly $5,500.
The amount of time required for a plasma exchange varies. Johnson typically expels a liter of blood and receives the same amount back in plasma, which is a lot as these things go. (The human body has about five liters of blood.) By working with his phlebotomist to make changes in the flow rate of the machine and the size of the needle during the plasma draw, Johnson has whittled the amount of time the process takes to about 80 minutes.
His clinic of choice is called Resurgence Wellness, which bills itself as a medical spa. The company’s building is located in a Dallas suburb, and is clean and modern looking inside. It has a series of suites for various procedures, ranging from hormone treatments to “body sculpting” to get rid of bulges of fat and platelet-rich plasma injections for such things as achy knees. A video playing in the hallway shows actors in a futuristic medical clinic where patients with electrode-covered bodies are scanned and analyzed before being tuned up.
In the lead up to his family day at the clinic, Johnson celebrates with his son and father and with other members of his Blueprint team. Everyone gathers in the lobby of an upscale hotel for a healthy breakfast. If anyone in the group is apprehensive, it’s the eldest Johnson. Richard hails from Utah and notes that he’s quite conservative, with very conservative friends who would think he’s mad for trying something like this. Richard also worries that his veins might collapse during the process and that he might let everyone down. “It’s a bit of a leap of faith here,” Richard says.
Two years ago, Richard started noticing a marked decline in his overall health and his mental performance on work tasks. Although he’s of average height, his weight climbed to 280 pounds, and he found it painful getting out of bed in the morning. In his work as an attorney, he was having trouble remembering items for legal briefs. He began following much of the Blueprint program six months ago, focusing on regular exercise, eating vegetables and taking some supplements. Having knocked off 50 pounds, he says he feels sharp and energetic in a testimonial that sounds almost like a weight-loss commercial: “Now, I’m doing the best work I’ve ever done.”
Quite often, it’s parents who sacrifice for their children, but the roles in this case are sharply reversed. Talmage, a model of health, has the least to gain because he does not receive anyone else’s fluids. Bryan benefits from getting a younger person’s plasma, and Richard gets that of Bryan, who he says is among the healthiest adults on Earth. “Yeah, I won the lottery,” Richard says. “There has to be a benefit in getting this much volume of him.”
In the past, Bryan and Richard had a tumultuous, sometimes difficult relationship. Richard became distant from some members of the Johnson family. He views the plasma exchange as a familial renewal and a deepening of his bond with Bryan. His emotions only add to the pressure over the course of the day as he awaits his turn at the needle.
Talmage handles it like a pro, and his plasma comes out light yellow and clear—the platonic plasma characteristics for a young, healthy person. Bryan’s is close to perfection. “Hey, look at that,” he says, pointing to a cylindrical, plastic container filled with his plasma. “This is how you can tell if I’m a fraud or not. The color is nice. It’s pristine.” In the background, one member of Bryan’s team chirps, “Ohhhh, it’s looking golden.”
Each celebration adds consternation to Richard’s face. He wonders aloud if his plasma might emerge a dark, cloudy mess. It’s unpleasant to be the oldest, least-healthy person in a room full of muscle-bound longevity explorers. Worse, if his vein were to collapse, this moment—this very expensive moment—would be all for naught.
In the end, Richard’s vein holds up, though his reddish, murky plasma is certainly not as resplendent as that of his kin. After he’s been drained, Richard begins to receive Bryan’s plasma as Bryan, Talmage and the team members watch. Some sit in black, faux-leather recliners as others stand near the walls.
Richard’s eyes begin to well with tears. He talks about the giving of flesh and it being as much an emotional experience as a physical one. “I don’t know if anything I’m saying makes sense,” Richard says. “I feel at peace.” Bryan smiles and jokes back: “You’re under the influence of plasma.”
Whether this will have any positive health effects remains to be seen. Brenner, the biochemist, suggests that anyone considering this type of procedure would likely be much better served by going on a nice, long hike. “The people going into these clinics who want anti-aging infusions basically have an anxiety problem,” he says. “They have an anxiety problem about their mortality.”
Johnson has faced a barrage of criticism since first talking about Project Blueprint publicly. He contends that doing something like a tri-generational plasma swap—and inviting a reporter along to witness it—is part of a process both to see what’s possible and beneficial in terms of the body and opening people’s minds to new ideas. The important thing, he says, is the data. He promises to publish it all in the coming months.
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