The Benefits of Biohacking
“We believe that human progress is taking the advancement of ourselves into our own hands, and employing technology to track and progress our biology. If computers were the dominant platform of the last century, we believe that the human body is the platform in the 21st century.”
– Geoffrey Woo, CEO / Co-Founder, HVMN
If any of you have seen the 2011 movie “Limitless” directed by Neil Burger, where a guy takes a pill that hugely improves his focus, memory, and overall cognitive performance, then you will know the feeling of wishing there was some way you could get your hands on that pill, whether it be to help you get though your day at work, ace an exam, or to just feel like a genius for a day. Well there is a drink out there that might do exactly what you want.
The dictionary definition of bio-hacking is “the activity of exploiting genetic material experimentally without regard to accepted ethical standards, or for criminal purposes.” In short bio-hacking is an attempt to make “better humans” to enable everyone to function at their highest level of efficiency in all they do. So just like many of you will recognize the concept of someone hacking into a computer to change something about it, bio-hacking is hacking into the human body to change something about it. Another way of describing it may be that bio-hacking is the process of making changes to your lifestyle in order to “hack” your body’s biology, and therefore feel your best. Two people who have a lot to say when it comes to the marvelous mysteries of bio-hacking are HVMN CEO and Co-founder Geoffrey Woo and his Research Lead Doctor Brianna Stubbs.
Geoffrey Woo hopes the work of HVMN will be at the forefront of a revolution of change around the world’s perceptions of digital health, genomics, and all things bio-hack related. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Computer Science. His work hinges on, in his worlds, “the fundamental human desire to want to be better.” Woo’s research and products are based around a source of energy, like fats and carbohydrates, many will not have heard of: ketones. This is something our bodies already produce, although at very low levels. It is produced when the body is pushed to its limits.
While working on the product Woo spoke about asking himself “If you can’t measure it, is it real?” He wanted to make sure their results could be measured, and that there was no chance the results were due to a placebo effect. He spoke of much of the development of the products being through self-experimentation, and working with other bio-hacking enthusiasts online, as well as academia on the topic.
Doctor Brianna Stubbs, 26, has a PhD in Metabolic Biochemistry from Oxford University, in England, and was a World Champion rower as part of the GB Rowing Lightweight Women’s four-person crew. She moved to San Francisco from England leaving her family and fiancé. She feels extremely invested in the company. She has been onboard with this project from the outset, and got involved while training with the British rowing team, and working on her PhD, which was all about ketones, under the supervision of Kieran Clarke, Professor of Physiological Biochemistry, at Oxford. Being both one of the people who knew the most in the world about ketones, as well as being a professional athlete, the work Woo was doing seemed a perfect fit for Stubbs. She spoke of working for the company being “a really refreshing change from academia“ and her time as a professional athlete.
The short-term aim in her mind is to make links with more professional sports teams, as well as doing more research into the products effectiveness in mixed intensity sports, as well as it’s effects on recovery for athletes after having seen early indications of the product helping to shorten recovery time. Long term she spoke of the products being less to do with just improving performance, but also improving health.
The company sells a range of consumables in order to try to enhance human performance, predominantly in professional athletes, however their vision for the future is that they will be a source of nutrients in every person’s diet. The company speaks about its visions and mission, as you would expect any Silicon Valley start-up to describe themselves, using a good old computer analogy. They encourage people to think of their bodies as being similar to a computer system: “We have a certain set of inputs into our system, and we care about certain types of performance outputs, things like reactions time, being smarter, being faster.”
Their work began with a multimillion dollar U.S. Military grant and has been focused predominately upon the military, and elite athletes ever since. They currently work with a series of professional sports teams, including a few from the NFL. To give you an idea of the effects of their drinkable product a Tour de France cyclist can ride an extra 400 meters in a 30-minute time trial. HVMN Ketone is the world’s first ketone drink and has been over ten years in development. Both The University of Oxford and the National Institutes of Health conducted the research behind the drink. The drink was initially developed in 2003-2004 with the aim of enhancing warfighter performance during cognitively and physically demanding missions. In short it is a performance enhancer. HVMN Ketone delivers on-demand blood ketone levels equivalent to 7-10 days of fasting, or weeks of a ketogenic diet, however it is no cheap drink, in its first few years of retail it cost $25,000 per drink. Three bottles of HVMN Ketone cost $99 online to pre-order, with a 36-pack selling for $1,089, so it is far from being accessible to the masses as of yet.
The company also sells four types of capsule pills, all of which have different benefits to your focus and endurance: Sprint (to help you deal with mentally demanding tasks), Yawn (to optimize your sleep), Rise (to help enhance memory, stains, and resilience), and Kado-3 (to help keep your mind healthy). There other product is called Go Cubes, which are packs of chewable coffee. With each pack of four containing about two cups of coffee (200 mg of caffeine), in Latte, Pure Dip and Mocha flavors.
As part of the company culture, employees are known to fast for 36-hour periods because Woo believes it improves mental performance substantially. He believes in a few years this type of intermittent fasting will be part of many other company’s cultures. In July 2016 Woo already had over 700 techie members of his fasting support group, WeFast.
All involved emphasize just how new all the technology and research behind these products are, and they all see a world of possibilities in their company’s future. They can already see potential in the fields of mood, cognition, metabolism, obesity, diabetes, as well as a myriad of other as yet unexplored possibilities.
Woo said one of his personal aims for the company is for them to gain the ability to change human performance, and human bodies rigorously, in the same way medicine does, and expand education around bio-hacking and the work they are doing in the broader field, spreading awareness of the benefits. He seemed to be saying that he wants their product to be the medicine for those that are well.
Woo stated their ultimate goal as “To be the company that represents an enhanced humanity” and shows people the benefits and changing the culture around bio-hacking.