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Friday 24 January 2020

Photo Essay

Live forever

From cryonics to robotics, scientists are gazing beyond the borders of mortality

By Alessandro Gandolfi

“In the twenty-first century” writes Yuval Noah Harari in Homo Deus, “humans are likely to make a serious bid for immortality.

Can man really become immortal? Few truly believe it, and so research has focused instead on cryo-conservation, man-machine hybridisation and mind downloads.

The majority of scientists agree, however, that average life spans will extend to up to 120 years, and that our health will improve considerably, thanks in particular to the enormous progress being made in the sectors of bioengineering, nanomedicine, genetics and artificial intelligence. Research into longevity has already become a billion-dollar business.


The Hocatt offers a holistic approach to wellness. The steam chamber combines ozone, oxygen and carbon dioxide which, according to its manufacturer, slows down the signs of ageing and improves cardiovascular health, wrinkle reduction and detoxification.

Mice are regularly used for experiments at the Fritz Lipmann Institute (FLI) in Jena, Germany. As mice have a relatively short lifespan of two to three years, several generations can be observed over a short period of time.  

Hyaluronic acid injections are popular at cosmetic clinics for combatting the signs of ageing. As a natural substance, hyaluronic acid’s main function is to retain water and keep tissues well lubricated, particularly the skin. (PHI Clinic, London.)

Scientists at Rubedo Life Science in Sunnyvale are developing technologies to eliminate senescent cells from human tissue. Senescent cells cause increased chronic inflammation, pain and tissue decay that contribute to age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s. 

Biochemist and transhumanist Aubrey de Greg co-founded SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence), a foundation in Moscow that researches therapies capable of rejuvenating the body and stopping ageing. 

Biomedical engineering company Skorpion Medical in Segrate, Milan, use 3D printing for creating orthopaedic and orthodontic anatomical structures.  

Basis is a daily supplement which promotes a healthy cellular ageing process, according to anti-ageing firm Elysium Health. Active ingredients include Nicotinamide, Riboside and Pterostilbene, an antioxidant found in cranberries.

Based in New York, Elysium Health produce and distribute Basis, a supplement that contains particular proteins intended to boost longevity. Leonard Guarente, a professor at MIT, created the pill. 

In the Gulf of Shioya on the island of Okinawa, Japan, men travel out on boats during the Ungami Festival for the ritual of giving thanks to the Sea God.  

Professor Makoto Suzuki, director of the Okinawa Research Centre for Longevity Science, was among the first to study one of the world’s most important Blue Zones, the island of Okinawa in Japan. Blue Zones are regions of the world where it is claimed people live much longer than average. 

Hal is a therapeutic exoskeleton created by Cyberdyne in Tsukuba, Japan, which aims to provide medical treatment for patients with cerebral and muscular problems as well as those of the nervous system, including spinal lesions and cerebral embolisms. 

Researcher Kenny Wilson uses fruit flies to study the mechanisms of ageing and metabolism at the Buck Institute for Research on Ageing, Novato, USA.  

KrioRus is Russia’s first cryonics organisation and uses cryo-conservation containers to freeze either just the head or the whole body of a patient once they have been pronounced legally dead. Alexey Samykin, one of the coordinators of the transhumanist movement in Moscow is photographed here.   

The so-called cold sauna at the Cryomed Clinic in Tokyo transforms liquid nitrogen into a cloud of cold air. It is claimed this accelerates your metabolism, strengthens the immune system and slows down tissue ageing. 

Kengoro is the most advanced humanoid robot in existence, located at the Jouhou System Kougaku Laboratory at the University of Tokyo. Kengoro has been designed to be as similar to humans as possible and mimic human movements. 

The turquoise killifish (Nothobranchius furzeri), a small African freshwater fish, has an average lifespan of just a few months meaning they are often the subject of longevity studies at the Fritz Lipmann Institute in Jena. 

The Biobank in Stockport is the largest and oldest biological archive of its kind in the UK. Lab technician Steve Hoyland helps store the DNA of more than 500,000 volunteers, which is used to study the relationship between the development of diseases and genetic predisposition. 

Anonymous donors undergo checks before providing a DNA sample at the Biobank in Stockport. The Biobank aims to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a whole range of serious and life-threatening illnesses, including strokes and diabetes. 

Alter is a robot at the Miraikan Museum in Tokyo. The robot’s movements are entirely governed by a neural network, a learning computer system devoid of human involvement. 

ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility) is a humanoid robot created by Honda and currently on display at the Miraikan Museum in Tokyo. Honda’s work with ASIMO led to further research on walking assist devices for people with weakened leg muscles. 

Scientist and entrepreneur Joe Betts-Lacroix is the Chief Technology Officer at Vium, a translational medicine company focusing on accelerating medical advancement by bringing 21st century technology into living systems research. 

3D printing is particularly useful for creative orthopaedic and orthodontic implants, the three dimensional reconstruction of skeleton structures and for duplicating anatomical structures.

Urologist Ottavio De Dobelli can perform an operation remotely using the  Da Vinci surgical robot system at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan. 

On display is ‘Leonardo sogna le nuvole’ (2014), a kinetic sculpture by Donato Piccolo from Galleria Mazzoli, who reproduced the face of Leonardo da Vinci’s Guerriero.  

100-year-old Haru Miyagi lives by herself in Ogimi on the island of Okinawa while her son works in Tokyo. Haru lost her husband during the Second World War. 

Chouju-zen is a longevity dish in Ogimi, known as the village of longevity for its high percentage of centenarians. 

Zebrafish (Danio rerio) are small freshwater fish with an extremely high regenerative capacity and a genome very similar to that of humans. They are often the subject of longevity studies at the Fritz Lipmann Institute in Jena. 

Zebrafish offer a promising model for understanding cognitive and neurobiological changes during ageing, as well as researching potential anti-ageing interventions.

Austrian Susan Holmer, 39, has had a limb disability for two years. Hal, a therapeutic exoskeleton made by Cyberdyne, provides medical treatment for the functional improvement of patients with cerebral and muscular problems, as well as those of the nervous system. 

The Real Bodies Exhibition in Milan shows the process of plastination which was invented by German anatomist Gunther von Hagens. Plastination enables the conservation of the human body through the replacement of the liquids with silicon polymers. 

In ancient Egypt, bodies were embalmed, or mummified, to preserve the body in as life-like a manner as possible. 

Ontonaroid is an android robot on display at the Miraikan Museum in Tokyo. Some people believe that, in the future, it will be possible to download our minds to a humanoid to overcome the physical limits imposed by the human body, letting us live forever. 

Laura Deming is the Head of the Longevity Fund in San Francisco, a $37 million fund that invests in companies that enable us to live longer and in better health. Laura was one of the 30 under 30 nominated by Forbes magazine in 2015. 

The microchip implant is one of the first forms of man-machine hybridisation and, according to the transhumanist movement in Moscow, is a step towards achieving immortality.

Diet and regular physical activity are considered by experts to be the indispensable ingredients for a healthy and long life. (San Francisco Senior Center.) 

Studies of fruit flies target different cellular processes to find out ways of slowing down the ageing process. Photographed here at the Buck Institute for Research on Ageing in Novato. 

Laboratory mice allow the study of age-related physiological changes in a way that is not possible in humans.  

The Fritz Lipmann Institute uses planaria, a type of flatworm, to study their reproductive system as it is capable of regenerating a new individual from a small fragment (up to 1/279th) of its own body. 

Biotech company Calico aims to combat ageing and age-related diseases by increasing our understanding of the biology that controls lifespan through technology. The San Francisco company is backed by Google. 

Corpses are prepared at the premises of Trans Time Inc., a cyro-conservation company in San Leandro. 

The prototypes from 3D printouts are used for medical devices and machines, as well as the reproduction of patient-specific organ and skeletal structure models. 

Medical students can practice on a robot-patient at the Simulation Lab in Pieve Emanuele, Milan, creating an extremely realistic scenario. 

In ancient Egypt, death was not represented as the end of life but as a transitional phase aided by particular rituals towards eternal life. (British Museum.)

Dietary supplements are now widely available, particularly at organic supermarkets. (Palo Alto.)


Born in Parma, Alessandro is a photographer, journalist and co-founder of the Parallelozero Photo Agency in Milan. His work has appeared in various newspapers and magazines, including Le Journal de la Photographie, Lightbox TIME, Newsweek Japan, Le Monde and The Sunday Times Magazine.

His pictures have been exhibited or screened in several personal and collective photo exhibitions, including the 2016 Photojourn Festival (Bangkok, Thailand) and the 2015 and 2014 VISA Pour l’Image (Perpignan, France). Alessandro won the National Geographic’s Best Edit Award in 2010, 2011, 2017 and 2018 with four reports published in the Italian edition of the magazine. In 2016 his work on the post-ebola situation in Sierra Leone won the PDN Photo Annual 2016 in the Documentary/Photojournalism category and a honourable mention at the MIFA (Moscow International Foto Awards).

All photographs by Alessandro Gandolfi/Parallelozero/INSTITUTE


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