When you think of hacking, you probably think of computers, bank accounts or social media profiles.
But an increasing number of celebrities and tech moguls are promoting ‘biohacking’ – overriding one’s natural aging process in the quest for eternal youth.
Biohacking is an umbrella term that encompasses many techniques — for some it could involve fasting, ice baths or a rigorous supplement routine.
For the more hardcore followers – especially those with deep pockets – it involves more invasive procedures, such as injecting modified DNA, using devices that alter brainwaves to get better sleep, and inserting microchips under the skin to store password information.
An increasing number of high-profile people have come out in favor of certain biohacking measures, including 51-year-old actress Brooke Burke , former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, football legend Tom Brady, and tech tycoon Bryan Johnson
Biohacking does not always mean CRISPR DNA editing and cryotherapy. In the cases of Tom Brady and Jack Dorsey, biohacking consists mainly of a regimented diet and meditation
An increasing number of high-profile people have come out in favor of biohacking, including 51-year-old actress Brooke Burke, who barely seems to have aged in the past few decades.
She revealed this week she follows a yoga and exercise regime as well as meditation, red light therapy, vision workshops, crystal sound bath healing, breathwork and more.
Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, NFL legend Tom Brady, and tech tycoon Bryan Johnson have all appeared to defy aging by following biohacking techniques.
Jeff Bezos, who has undergone a miraculous physical transformation in recent years, is rumored to be a biohacking devotee
IV vitamin drips are also growing in popularity. A-listers from Adele to the Kardashians are rumored to use them to reboot energy levels, beat hangovers and boost immune systems.
Rich and famous people looking for ways to look young and beautiful forever is not a new idea.
But, biohacking methods seemed like a far-off science fiction not too long ago.
For instance, in the weeks following the death of Walt Disney in 1966, a rumor that the iconic animator had been suspended in a cryonic chamber containing liquid nitrogen to be revived at a later date captured the imagination of millions.
But methods such as cryogenic freezing, IV vitamin drips, and implantable devices are all evidence that technology is catching up with humans’ hunt for the fountain of youth, according to Dr Richard Faragher, an expert in the biology of aging at the University of Brighton.
He told DailyMail.com: ‘We’re now starting to be in a position where we are beginning to attack the causes of aging.
Biohacking encompasses a dizzying array of options to optimize one’s physical and mental performance. Jeff Bezos, who has undergone a physical transformation in recent years, is rumored to be a biohacking devotee
‘A lot of this at the core is, are you able to integrate insights from the scientific literature around aging into your lifestyle.’
The term ‘biohacking’ has been around since the 1980s, but the concept really took off after scientists fully sequenced the human genome in 2002.
The growing movement is made up of citizen scientists coming together to share tips and tricks with others outside of a structured, controlled lab environment.
At that time, do-it-yourself biologists began working with materials that would normally be constrained to a lab setting. It became a hot topic in Silicon Valley a few years later and has since spread like wildfire.
The advent of technology to slow the aging process has been largely democratized by eager amateurs diving in, including former NASA employee Josiah Zayner who injected himself with gene-edited DNA to enhance the muscle cells in his forearm.
Biohacking is also sometimes known as human augmentation, human enhancement, or do-it-yourself biology. It sets out to improve overall physical health and optimize performance outside the realm of traditional medicine.
The underlying philosophy is a refusal to accept the body’s physical limitations and shortcomings.
But it has raised hefty concerns around access and ethics. There is relatively little oversight of the more futuristic forms of biohacking.
The federal government explicitly bans government money from going toward human germline gene therapy, which involves altering the specific genes of an egg, sperm cell, or early embryo. But there is no ban on performing it.
A private lab or even a person’s garage is a fair setting for gene editing research, as long as they don’t sell the technology to others.
Among the more invasive methods of biohacking is implanting a chip device under the skin to do anything from storing password information to monitoring blood glucose levels.
The subset of cyborg biohackers who choose to go this far is known as grinders.
Dr Faragher said: ‘Most biohacking is the same old act with a few new frills, trying to use the latest insights into exercise, physiology, diet, and nutrition to optimize health.
Gene editing and CRISPR technology have become the buzziest terms in the field of biohacking for their ability to equip scientists with the tools necessary to precisely modify an organism’s DNA.
With this technology, scientists can better understand and even correct disease-causing gene mutations that drive cancers and other conditions.
Some in the citizen science community, eager to convey to the public that the future of biotech and medicine is just around the corner, have brazenly injected themselves with edited DNA to show its safety and overall ‘wow factor.’
Josiah Zayner shot to mainstream fame in 2017 when he injected himself with DNA edited with CRISPR technology on a live-streamed biotech conference.
The stunt drew attention to his Oakland, California, biohacking company The ODIN.
But it caught up with him in 2019 when the California Department of Consumer Affairs launched an investigation for practicing medicine without a license.
Mr Zayner said he was being unfairly attacked for ‘genetic self-experimentation and showing people how to access publicly available knowledge.’
He would later say he regretted these stunts as many others mimicked him by performing risky biohacking implantations of their own in the coming years.
In addition to implanting computer chips under the skin, other biohacking pathways are DIY biology and nutrigenomics.
The applications of DIY biology are still being explored, but there have been some notable examples of this field of inquiry in action.
Biochemistry researcher Gabriel Licina is famous for a self-experiment he undertook in 2015. He injected Chlorin e6, a light-sensitive compound similar to one found in sea creatures, into his own eye to endow himself with the power to see in the dark. And it worked.
Dr Licina has said he saw farther at night for about four hours and suffered no lasting damage.
Nutrigenomics, meanwhile, is a field that allows someone to look closely at how different nutrients react with their genes.
It’s more than just eating healthy. It uses molecular tools to pinpoint the parts of a person’s diet that impact their health most and can reduce disease risk factors.
Nutrigenomic testing can inform how a person should exercise and eat based on their metabolism and energy expenditure.
It can also warn people of a predisposition toward high blood pressure or cholesterol, influencing them to take in less sodium and saturated fat.
The field of biohacking is developing fast but it has yet to reach a point at which most people can access it when they want to. In some fields of study, the technology has not yet even been primed for human use.
Dr Faragher, for instance, focuses his research on cellular senescence, or the irreversible state at which cells stop replicating but don’t die off when they should.
He and fellow biogerontology experts have determined this to be a hallmark of aging and key driver of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
His research looks at the effects of removing those senescent cells on reducing disease. Dr Faragher has seen in mice subjects that removing them produces marked health improvements.
He said: ‘We now know that the mechanisms that cause us to age and develop the things we think of as age-related disease are essentially the same.
‘When senescent cells build up in my skin I get wrinkles. When they build up in the cardiovascular system, they give me cardiovascular disease.’
Biohacking shows immense promise in immunology, oncology, and biotechnology. But, whether it will be widely accessible remains unknown.
While many people could choose to eat healthier if they were so inclined, only a small subset can tailor their diet to their genetic makeup, which requires sending a DNA sample to a lab and waiting for detailed results, which costs money.
The world of democratized science is expanding rapidly, but things get ethically murky when it comes to performing a procedure on oneself or someone else.
While biohacking endeavors to improve overall health, it could further widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Wealth is often a top predictor of health. Wealthy people can afford organic foods, gym memberships, and regular visits to a doctor.
But the goal is to use biohacking for good, such as fighting back against dementia and other degenerative neurological diseases that impact millions of people globally.
Dr Faragher said: ‘What is percolating through is the idea what we have for the first time an understanding of at least some of the mechanisms driving aging and age-related disease and we are starting to develop real treatments based on this knowledge.’