“What is the meaning of life?”.
“I’ll tell you in the next interview.”
“Is it enclosed in number 42? (referring to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)”.
“It’s 42.618033 (laughs ndr)… and a lot of other things. The meaning of life is to find yourself. By finding a way to express your deepest essence, you create an art form. You become a maker and contributor to the universe.”
Inventor, free spirit, scientist. Entrepreneur. Alchemist. Philosopher. “I would say simply a curious”. In the heart of Silicon Valley, Marco Quarta is working to cure aging. That, according to his view, it is not an inevitable phenomenon. Tra Sunnyvale e Mountain View, in California, ha founded two startups, one complementary to the other. You have raised tens of millions of dollars. Thanks to technology stands developing revolutionary drugs to restore the health of cells. Killer molecules, engineered to act only on senescent cells, called zombies. And other molecules that instead will enhance healthy cells, rejuvenating them.
An interview with Quarta is a journey that starts from Bolzano, where he was born, he moved to Bologna, where he graduated in one of the laboratories under the patronage of Rita Levi Montalcini and directed by one of his pupils. He passes through the University of Padua to then move to California where he stops by day at Stanford University and by night at the Zen monastery, founded by Steve Jobs’ meditation master in the mountains of the San Francisco Bay Area. A journey that is also a lesson in entrepreneurship. And a psychoanalysis session. “I’ve been fascinated by the mechanisms of life since I was a child. I was five years old when observing nature in the mountains of the Dolomites, I had my first inspiration: if everything is made of the same material, what’s the difference between a stone and a gnat? Why one lives and the other doesn’t? And why does a gnat live less than a marmot? Aging is not a definitive phenomenon. Already in those years I had decided that I wanted to dedicate my life to a mission: to understand, cure and improve the decline of man”. At the age of 6, his bedroom is already a small laboratory, complete with a chemical kit, microscope and anatomical model. He begins to make his first experiments for fun. “Today I’m 47 and I’m not done yet”.
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The longevity sector is one of the cult sectors in Silicon Valley. The new goal of science is to turn back the clock. There is growing interest from investors and big tech companies. After Google which in 2013 launched Calico, has arrived Jeff Bezos. He has recruited Nobel laureates and scientists, with others he has invested 3 billion dollars and founded Altos Labs. Many companies are being born. “But much more should be done. One of the biggest problems we face as a global society is the aging of the population.”
According to data from Haver Analytics, there are more people on Earth over the age of 65 than under the age of five. By 2050, the number of people over 65 will exceed 1.6 billion. A world of old people. Old men who lose their health too often. Too soon. A field with enormous growth prospects. Over the next five years, health care costs in the United States will consume more than 20% of GDP.
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Family of doctors and scientists. She fourth graduated in biotechnology in Bologna and met Rita Levi Montalcini. “She was a Senator at the time and yet she came to the lab often. She always wanted to know what I was doing. We worked on brain stem cells, aging and chronic pain and she asked everyone a lot of questions with great passion and a deep intellectual curiosity. She continued to have a sharp scientific mindset despite her age. She was an incredibly inspirational role model.” After graduating, Quarta did a doctorate in neuroscience in Padua. One day he is called to La Sapienza in Rome to hold a seminar. He is 26 years old. In the room is Thomas Rando, one of the pioneers in stem cell biology and rejuvenation studies, who is spending a sabbatical year in Italy. The American is fascinated by Quarta and invites him to Stanford University for a post doc. “I should have stayed a year.” But after the post-doc comes to him proposal to lead the research group for Bioengineering in Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine as director of the Tissue Regeneration, Repair and Restoration Center of Excellence.
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Quarta decides to stay and, contaminated by an environment that blends science and business, in 2018 he launched two startups. The first is called Rubedo Life Sciences. “It is concerned with identifying and pharmacologically eliminating the bad cells of aging that cause disease.” The second is Turn Bio. “It aims to epigenetically reprogram cells that are aging but can still be rejuvenated and rejuvenated, turning them back so they don’t go bad. We were the first to bet on this approach, based on our scientific work at Stanford University. The same approach on which Altos Lab was founded a few years later”. Both companies work with teams of 40 people, have raised tens of millions in funding and are started in phase two, i.e. that of clinical trials. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a major public non-profit institution, just awarded Rubedo.
Looking at biological aging as a therapeutic opportunity and not something inevitable is a futuristic vision. “When I started, what I was doing was seen by many in the scientific world as something heretical. Now even big pharmaceutical companies have begun to explore this approach. I just returned from an event organized in Riyadh by the Hevolution Foundation, a foundation that has received an initial billion dollars from the Saudi royal family to study aging. The goal is to create a roadmap for healthy longevity from a socio-economic point of view.
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But isn’t lifestyle enough? “No, a healthy lifestyle contributes to more graceful aging, but does not stop it. It is essential to create therapies that are able to intervene or prevent specific biological phenomena. It is certainly a long journey, but it has begun. There are several stages in progress. In 5 years we expect the first drugs approved to act on the mechanisms of aging that cause specific diseases. In 10 we will be able to use them to treat biological aging in general. In 20 years, we will begin to evaluate the large-scale effects of these therapies and their impact on the trajectory of aging in healthy people. In other words, there are therapies on the horizon that aim to extend health and quality of life into old age. The goal is to stay biologically young and healthy for longer. We are advancing with solid steps, but they must be taken one at a time.”
Quarta has lived in California for years, but thinks globally. Her heart remains tied to Italy. The desire to give back to our country is immense. “I feel where I wanted to be, in the right place”. She sees challenges ahead of her, not problems. “I am an optimist by nature and envision a bright future for myself. I am exposed to innovation in so many sectors and see incredible opportunities that continue to support my optimism. Humanity has always been faced with many challenges. It has the ability and the responsibility to face and resolve them. Now we are faced with two that are interconnected: the impact on the environment and ageing. The increasingly “aged” human population has an enormous impact on the environment, where every single During his life, a person leaves a footprint, an imprint with long-term effects. Man’s impact on the planet is measurable, but so is the impact of the environment on man and his aging. One example out of many: Premature aging of the respiratory system is caused by reduced air quality, aggravated by various forms of air pollution, which in turn is influenced by climate change on which human action significantly affects. working to bring the delicate balance of our planet, together with the life it hosts, towards healthier and more sustainable levels. We have a moral duty to do so. We are working on it a lot. For this, a future of continuous wonder and continuous challenges awaits us, in an infinite spiral path”.
Optimism, free spirit, innate curiosity. Quarta has always explored in many directions, in many levels, even the most esoteric ones.
“One of my greatest study inspirations was Alchemy. A millenary philosophy, called sacred science, is a scientific path that humanity has made in exploring nature, in asking questions, including the one around the meaning of life.
And so many of these millennial, medieval, Renaissance, Greek, Arab, Indian, Chinese or Persian studies have suggested directions for me to seek meaning. Isaac Newton was a great student of alchemy. So Robert Boyle: they were a great inspiration. In general, the thoughts of the great philosophers of the past, such as the Greeks and Romans, but also the more recent ones, including the psychoanalyst James Hillman, a disciple of Carl Gustav Jung, in turn a disciple of Freud, have helped me find my essence.
When you find your inspiration, life becomes an artistic expression of yourself. This enriches everything you do with meaning. I’ve always been looking for answers to my questions. Bologna, my city, is a philosophical and spiritual place. The university, among the oldest in the world, has been a forge for me: it has given me the opportunity to interact and get to know people with different philosophical and cultural exposures. Arriving in California, I lived for a long time in a Zen temple in the mountains, where in the morning I would go down and go to do research at Stanford University, and at night I would go back up with the monks to meditate. It’s a continuous journey. In the absence of this, life is a constant conflict between the tension of desires, passions, emotions, thoughts that are often not aligned with our path. Finding, distilling and preserving the center of oneself requires constant work. This is fundamental so that, in the temporal dimension that we have available between the beginning and the end, between the alpha and the omega, we can fully enjoy that conscious singularity in the space-time-matter-energy quadrinomial that we call our own. life”.