Ambrosia: This Startup Will Give You Blood Transfusions From Young People to Reverse the Aging Process. It Only Costs $8,000

The concept of blood transfusions as an elixir of youth was the basis for season 4 episode 5 of Silicon Valley (entitled "Blood Boy"). John P. Johnson/HBO

If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk. But if you give a mouse a transfusion of blood plasma from a much younger mouse, you can improve his cognitive and neurological functions—and reverse the effects of aging.

The scientific studies are fairly remarkable. In 2014, researchers at Stanford University demonstrated that infusion of young blood plasma in mice "is capable of rejuvenating synaptic plasticity and improving cognitive function." In other words, blood helps keep mice young.

Can this work on humans, too? Jesse Karmazin, a 32-year-old physician and graduate of Stanford University’s medical school, says yes. Karmazin is the founder of Ambrosia LLC, a company that is charging adults $8,000 to be injected with blood plasma from young people (ages 16-25). It's part of a clinical trial to test the anti-aging benefits of plasma transfusions. The trial passed ethical review, but you have to be 35 or older (and, well, able to scrounge up $8,000) to participate.

And, Karmazin insists, it really works. He told me that the treatments contribute to heart health and brain health, and that his customers (most of whom are healthy and around retirement age) seem quite satisfied. Karmazin went so far as to compare his procedure's effects to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button—the story of a man who ages in reverse.

Related: Benjamin Button review

Some scientists are more skeptical. Stanford neuroscientist Tony Wyss-Coray told Science Magazine that the trial is "abusing people's trust" and said there's "no clinical evidence" to support the benefits. Ambrosia's informed consent form doesn't guarantee any results or improvement of age-associated diseases, but does state that there's "abundant data from mouse studies suggesting rejuvenation of the heart, brain, inflammation levels, and other organs." (Karmazin referred to data of his own supporting this, but declined to share this data with Newsweek.)

Here's my conversation with Karmazin about blood plasma transfusions, vampire movies and why this whole thing makes some people feel weird. If you're in California and want to try out some new blood, get in touch.

You're the founder of Ambrosia LLC. Is that correct?
That's correct.

And your company is charging people $8,000 to receive plasma transfusions from younger humans?
That's also accurate! Yes.

Tell me why.
Well, back in the 1950s, some mouse researchers discovered that if you take blood from a young mouse and give it to an older mouse, it reverses aging and the molecular process. We can see aging, but it's sort of an intrinsic... a cellular change that occurs as well. Aging is sort of at the root of what we experience as we get older—feeling tired, not being as strong, having a less functional brain. It's also the root of most diseases—heart disease, Alzheimer's, diabetes, impaired recovery from injuries. That's the reason we're doing this.

You think that this plasma will make people feel healthier and stronger?
Yeah. I think we now have data showing it does. We see improvements in heart health, in brain health, in inflammation and cancer risk. We're seeing the same things that were predicted based on the mouse studies.

A lot of people might think this is some sort of hoax or a joke. Is it a hoax?
No. No! We have a reporter at our clinic right now. You can come visit us and see what we're doing. You can also be treated right now if you'd like to.

I'm under 35, so I guess I'm not quite eligible yet. I can certainly pencil it in for my 35th birthday.
[laughs] That'd be great! I understand that people want to see more data. But this is real. I know it's also blood, so it's a little bit out of many people's comfort ranges. But for those who think this is an appropriate use of blood, this is a real possibility.

How many customers have you taken so far? What are their motives for going to Ambrosia and taking this risk?
There are about 80 of them so far. I would say the most common patient is around retirement age—50s or 60s, although we have two patients who are 92 right now. It varies. I'd say there are two main groups. First, there are patients who want to stay healthy. Those tend to be the younger, but not exclusively younger, people. And then there are patients who have some sort of illness—folks with Alzheimer's disease, diabetes. We're treating both and the idea is to gather data about what is the best use of this therapy.

Mice This picture taken on January 23, 2014 shows a mouse in a box at the Neurosciences rechearch Center in CERMEP in Bron, near Lyon. PHILIPPE MERLE/AFP/Getty Images

Do your customers seem to think it's money well spent? $8,000 is not something you'd spend lightly. People might want to see results.
Yeah. And they do. We've had several patients come back for multiple treatments.

Tell me about your background. You have a medical degree. How did you wind up in this business?
I've been working in aging laboratories throughout my career. When I graduated, this was something I had been hoping to do for the better part of a decade. That's why I launched the company. I was very well aware of the research, and as a doctor, I was able to write the study protocol and have it approved and that's how we're able to do this.

How was your interest first piqued in this particular anti-aging treatments?
Mostly, it was the animal research. There was a resurgence of interest in this research a few years before I graduated. 

You thought, "People would spend thousands of dollars for this!"
I would love the price to be lower. But we're essentially operating at cost. I'm not really making much money from this at all. That's how much it costs to do a clinical trial.

You're under 35. Have you personally experienced this transfusions?
No. I'm excited to have the treatment once I'm old enough. It's just that, in discussions with our regulatory group, we agreed that 35 was a reasonable age to start.

It feels like there's a real obsession with wellness treatments and extending one's life and spending a lot of money to try to beat death. What do you think that says about capitalism and how people spend their money? Where does it end?
I really like that question. It actually reflects people's priorities. I think we value health and it gives a lot of dividends to invest in health. That's why we spend so much on healthcare.

Do you think there's a limit in terms of how much wellness and lifespan treatments can—I mean, I'm having trouble phrasing this...
I understand what you're saying. You're asking about immortality to an extent. Which I don't believe in. There's a lot of medical reasons that that's not possible. But it's probably an incremental process. The more you spend on healthcare, the better results you see. And there's no theoretical limit. There's no biological reason that you can't just keep pushing things. You would have to continue inventing new medical procedures to do that. That's how I view it.

Are there any health risks?
Well, sure. There's millions of transfusions each year in the U.S. Theoretically, it's a blood product, so you do have to be concerned that the blood is screened correctly. But if you do that, it becomes an extremely safe procedure. It's one of the safest procedures there is. That's part of the reason we're allowed to do this—blood transfusions are very well-studied and very safe.

Are there any risks, though?
There's the theoretical risk of an infectious disease. We're not a blood bank—we don't collect blood from people. But blood banks screen the blood and that prevents the transmission of an infectious disease. That is the risk, and that's why it's so heavily regulated. In the U.S., the blood supply is considered one of the safest in the world. 

Blood A close-up photo of a blood sorting machine is pictured on July 6, 2012 at the blood collection center of the French Institution for Blood (EFS) in Paris.The blood sample is sorted using a machine to keep only the plasma or the cells. The EFS opened a blood donation house (Maison du don) in Paris on July 3, it is the fifth blood donation house in France since 2007 with the one in Aix-en-Provence, Lille, Rouen, Saint-Pierre de la Reunion and Toulouse. MARION BERARD/AFP/GettyImages

Are you squeamish at all around blood?
No! Also, we use blood plasma. So it doesn't actually look like blood. It's not red. Even for people who might be squeamish, it's a much more comfortable procedure than they might think.

What about the people who donate the plasma? These are young people. How do you become a donor?
People donate whole blood—like, red whole blood—to a blood donation center. And what they do is they separate out the red blood cells from the plasma—they spin it in a centrifuge—and then we purchase the plasma from them.

Can anyone purchase blood from a blood bank? Or do you have to have some sort of license...
Doctors can. It's a prescription drug, is how it's regulated. It's almost like a pharmacy for blood, although it's frozen. It shifts directly to the physician's office, because it has to be stored frozen.

Where do you see this business taking off in the next five or 10 years? Do you think this will become a more common and socially accepted treatment?
I hope so! That depends on people's reaction to it. If they're comfortable with the idea of using blood for this use, then it could really become accepted. I think we're seeing that people have a strong reaction to blood. Some people think it's weird. To be honest, that's probably what's going to limit its option. I think it's going to remain an elective treatment in the future.

Are your parents on board with the idea?
Yeah. They're very proud of me. Yes.

Are you familiar with some of the stories about Peter Thiel and his apparent interest in increasing his own lifespan through blood transfusions?
No, I'm not.

Are you a fan of vampire movies?
Uhh... sure. I haven't seen a lot of them? But I think there are some good classic ones.

What's your favorite?
I don't know. If I had to pick a movie, I would say Benjamin Button is the closest movie to go along with what we're doing.

That's pretty fantastical.
That's what surprises people. They think this is going to slow aging. It actually [reverses] it. That's what you see with the mice as well. The mice become younger. That's what I think is going on with people. They're actually becoming younger.