Keywords: Russia, oligarch, aging, life extension, longevity, rejuvenation, immortality
MOSCOW (RIA Novosti commentator Vladimir Simonov) - When life is good, it is especially bitter to admit that it will end some day. And this simple truth encourages nouveaux riches Russians, called oligarchs here, to spend through the nose on all kinds of rejuvenation procedures and on scientific research to create the "elixir of youth." The people who have everything you can dream about, from castles in Scotland to garages with a dozen Ferraris, want absolute, 100% joie de vivre in their own immortality.
One of such people is Vladimir Bryntsalov, the pharmaceutical king of Russia who plans to spend $2 million on setting up a personal rejuvenation laboratory. He has had a course of stem cell injections and feels no older than 20, though his biological age is about 60.
"My cheeks were deeply lined - now they are smooth as baby's," said Bryntsalov stroking his cheeks. "There were terrible scars on my body since childhood - they have smoothed over, vanished."
Stem cells are taken from the patient's fat layers under local anesthesia (autogenous transplant) or from aborted or miscarried human fetuses. In both cases, the substance is blended and put into an incubator, where the cells grow rapidly for several weeks, after which the precious substance is injected into the patient's vein. Or you can have facial injections, which are said to have miraculous effect.
This expensive treatment will cost you $10,000-20,000 in Moscow, depending on the length of the course. But members of the financial elite and ranking state officials are lining up at medical centers.
In many Western countries, such clinics would not even get the opportunity to open their doors. During a recent speech, President Bush denounced stem cell therapy as "godless." The U.S. administration and the governments of many other industrialized countries refuse to finance such research from the state budget and it is banned altogether in several countries. But more than a score of physicians openly practice this experimental method in Moscow.
The sale of eternal youth is nearly as profitable as the oil business. Doctor Alexander Teplyashin, one of the most fashionable rejuvenation specialists, has two clinics in downtown Moscow and on the elite Rublyovskoye Shosse (Highway). Their high-tech architecture would do honor to any European capital. Dr. Teplyashin has a long list of the rich who want to turn the clock back.
"I always tell my patients: Spend something on yourself, and not just on your planes and yachts," said Dr. Teplyashin.
This is not a problem for many oligarchs. More and more of them can have a private jet, a football club, and the not quite fantastic dream of immortality. Forbes reported recently that Russia has the world's second largest group of billionaires after the U.S. The personal income of 27 Russian citizens is above $1 billion (69 in the U.S.) and their aggregate assets are $90.6 billion.
The third man on Forbes Russian rich list is Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate worth $5.5 billion. He would not like to leave behind the results of his hard work when his final hour beckons. In a bid to put off this day, he gave $120,000 for research into "the youth elixir" at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Biology of Moscow State University. Professor Vladimir Skulachev, the Institute director and a full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, received the money. His idea may not seem original but he has moved farther ahead in its implementation than many other researchers.
Aging is a biological program where oxygen is the main killer of cells, said Skulachev. And any program can be turned off. The idea is to create a powerful antioxidant to protect the organism from destruction. The Deripaska grant and months of brainstorming seem to have brought Skulachev's group to a sensational discovery. There is a tube in the professor's fridge filled to a third with a sticky amber-colored substance. It isthe miracle elixir that may turn some Russians into Peter Pan.
"No, I did not promise eternal life to Deripaska," said the professor modestly. "Well, his name may go down in the history of science for giving substantial sums to unique research." According to Skulachev, the task is to "check the hypothesis of aging and the possibility of prolonging life."
So far, the elixir is being checked on mice, and the result will become clear in a year. The professor needs another $500,000 for the next five years of research, and his team hopes Mr. Deripaska's enthusiasm will not ebb.
The Science of Longevity foundation, created by Russia's most exclusive family club, Monolith, is very enthusiastic. Its members are the cream of the country's financial elite and, not surprisingly, they would like to prolong the benefits of the post-communism era into eternity. The foundation's board, whose trustees are Yuri Osipov, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Yuri Pokrovsky, president of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, and ex-Health Minister Yuri Shevchenko, has called on Russian scientists to take part in a competition "for the best program of prolonging human life." The board has received over 300 proposals and projects.
Russian society, a third of which lives below the poverty line, is divided on the need for immortal oligarchs. Mikhail Rechkin, an expert on the paranormal, thinks that Russia does not need eternally young oligarchs. "There is a gulf between the rich and the poor in the country," he said. "And so, the rich will not be allowed to live eternally. There will be a revolution."
Valery Polyakov, a cosmonaut and adviser to the director of the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems, is not so outspoken: "Deripaska did well to invest in research. Maybe this will help scientists find ways to prolong life not only for oligarchs but also for other people. The oligarchs should not think about eternal life but about creating a good name for themselves and cleansing themselves of their dirty deeds."
The patients of the Russian Dr. Faust have a somewhat primitive notion of immortality. "I want to live longer so as to earn more money," one of them said in the surgery for stem cells transplant.
These people will have to hear and understand yet the prayer of Russia's oldest citizen, Pasikhat Dzhukavleva, a Chechen who turned 124 amid the explosions and ruination of Grozny. "I have had a good life but I have lived too long. I am tired of living. Forgive me for that."
Source: Russian Information Agency Novosti
More Than Human - New Book by Ramez Naam
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