Turn Back Time
Tatler Singapore|January 2022
Billionaires are investing in body optimisation, biohacking and other advancements in medical technology that promise to turn back the clock on ageing. But should we really want to grow younger?
Coco Marett
Dr Jonathan Seah remembers watching as a young boy The Six Million Dollar Man, a television series from the 1970s about the world’s first bionic man. It tells the story of United States Air Force colonel Steve Austin (played by Lee Majors) who, after a Nasa test flight gone wrong, is rebuilt with superhuman strength, speed and vision.

“Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology,” Seah says, putting on his best impression of Harve Bennett, who narrated the series’ intro. He reverts to his regular voice: “But really, it’s true: we’re living in a time where we have the technology.”

In recent years, and with astonishing speed, the subject of body optimisation through emerging medical treatments has transformed from the stuff of sci-fi fantasy into promising reality. Doctors, and subsequently their patients, are optimistic that a rise in new technologies will enable people to live healthier, more fulfilling lives at any age, with a broader push for positive thinking around seeking longevity that is at the heart of what is being described as the “pro-ageing” movement. As the global population is generally living longer, couples are also choosing to have children later in life, and more people are seeking to remain engaged in their careers and reduce social isolation for as long as they can.

“Our mantra is that we want to help our clients work smarter, play harder and live longer,” says Seah, who is the co-founder and chairman of LifeClinic, an integrated medical clinic, and LifeHub, an independent medical wellness centre, both based in Hong Kong. “Much of what we do isn’t just to help our patients live longer, but to perform better for the age they’re at. If you’re a 70-year-old person, you want a biology that’s closer to 50. And at 50, closer to 30.”

Pro-ageing does not mean that people are embracing their wrinkles or grey roots—although in many chic circles, they are, even more so since the pandemic. Rather, it is a term that has become increasingly popular as a reaction against the commonplace beauty industry practice of marketing products as “anti-ageing”, as if looking older must intrinsically be something negative. It also considers the very real possibility that we might someday be able to stop the physical process of ageing through science. And that day might not be very far off.

Dr David A Sinclair’s 2019 bestseller, Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To, caused a sensation when Sinclair, a Harvard Medical School geneticist who was named one of the 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2014, argued that “there is no biological law that says we must age”. Sinclair’s research has pinpointed the molecular causes of ageing, specifically the cellular loss of epigenetic information—which he compares to software that reads the DNA—over time, that are potentially reversible. In one study, he and his team reprogrammed the information of damaged optic nerve cells of mice to be young and healthy again, reversing blindness caused by acute stress or ageing.

Understanding the core science of what causes ageing has only happened within the past decade, prompting a rush of research by scientists and companies that aim to develop anti-ageing drugs and other products that could stop ageing in its tracks. Meanwhile, legions of fans are adopting practices such as exercising in extreme heat or subjecting themselves to blasts of cold in a bid to alter the destiny of their molecules.

Lindsay Jang, the co-founder of two of Hong Kong’s coolest restaurants, Yardbird and Ronin, as well as the cult workout movement Family Form, is a major advocate of the pro-ageing movement and regularly documents her journey online. “We have the technology now and I’m all for using it,” she says. “I’m all about new tech: lasers, regenerative medicines, stem cells, hormones—anything that can support me feeling the best I can.”

Last November, she strutted into a new decade with abs, a flawless complexion and incredible energy. “I’m 40 and I can’t wait for the next 40 years. My body has never felt better,” says Jang, who credits celebrities such as Cher, Jennifer Lopez, Jane Fonda and Halle Berry for embracing rather than being ashamed of their age and shifting society’s attitudes towards ageing—particularly among women.

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