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‘There is no reality here’: Researchers whose work inspired a startup to charge $8,000 to fill patients’ veins with young blood say it’s putting lives at risk

‘There is no reality here’: Researchers whose work inspired a startup to charge $8,000 to fill patients’ veins with young blood say it’s putting lives at risk

A bag of red blood cells.

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A bag of red blood cells.
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Joern Pollex/Getty Images
  • A startup called Ambrosia Medical that charges $8,000 to fill your veins with the blood of young people plans to launch its first clinic in New York City at the end of this year.
  • Researchers who study blood transfusions called the procedure “dangerous” and said the idea behind it is based on “incorrect interpretations” of their work.
  • Founded by Stanford graduate Jesse Karmazin, the company recently completed the first clinical trial designed to assess the benefits of young blood transfusions. Those results have not been published.

Does young blood hold the keys to a long and healthy life? Startup founder and and Stanford Medical graduate Jesse Karmazin believes it might, so he launched a startup called Ambrosia Medical that fills older people’s veins with fresh blood from young donors.

But researchers who study the procedure say it poses major risks for patients, including an elevated risk of developing several serious conditions later in life, such as graft-versus-host disease, which can occur when transfused blood cells attack the patient’s own cells, and transfusion-associated lung injury.

Irina and Michael Conboy, two University of California at Berkeley researchers who’ve published research on young blood transfusions in mice, called Ambrosia’s plans “dangerous.”

“They quite likely could inflict bodily harm,” Irina Conboy told Business Insider.

The Conboys’ concern stems from an awareness of what happens in the body when it receives foreign blood from a donor.

“It is well known in the medical community – and this is also the reason we don’t do transfusions frequently – that in 50% of patients there are very bad side effects. You are being infused with somebody else’s blood and it doesn’t match,” Conboy said. “That unleashes a strong immune reaction.”

Karmazin told Business Insider that the Conboys’ statements “are not supported by data or clinical experience.”

“Millions of plasma transfusions are performed safely in the US each year and the FDA monitors the safety of the blood supply and transfusions closely. We agree with the Conboys that exposure to young plasma has potential beneficial effects. Further research in this field at Stanford and Harvard, amongst other institutions, indicates that ‘blood dilution’ is not responsible for the observed effects, so it is not clear what the basis for that statement is.”

The first clinical trial of its kind

blood

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Getty Images/Joern Pollex

In 2017, Ambrosia enrolled people in the first US clinical trial designed to find out what happens when the veins of adults are filled with blood from the young.

While the results of that study have not yet been made public, Karmazin told Business Insider the results were “really positive.”

Because blood transfusions are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Ambrosia’s approach has the green-light to continue as an off-label treatment. There appears to be significant interest: since putting up its website last week, the company has received roughly 100 inquiries about how to get the treatment, David Cavalier, Ambrosia’s chief operating officer, told Business Insider. That led to the creation of the company’s first waiting list, Cavalier said.

“So many people were reaching out to us that we wanted to make a simple way for them to be added to the list,” Cavalier said.

With that in mind, Cavalier and Karmazin are currently scouting a number of potential clinic locations in New York City and organizing talks with potential investors. They hope to open the facility by the end of this year.

“New York would be the flagship location,” Karmazin said.

Blood tranfusions are already approved by federal regulators, so Ambrosia does not need to demonstrate that its treatment carries significant benefits before offering it to customers.

So far, the company has already infused close to 150 patients ranging in age from 35 to 92 with the blood of young donors, Cavalier said. Of those, 81 were participants in their clinical trial.

The trial, which involved giving patients 1.5 liters of plasma from a donor between the ages of 16 and 25 over two days, was conducted with physician David Wright, who owns a private intravenous-therapy center in Monterey, California. Before and after the infusions, participants’ blood was tested for a handful of biomarkers, or measurable biological substances and processes that are thought to provide a snapshot of health and disease.

People in the trial paid $8,000 to participate. The company hasn’t settled on a commercial pricetag for the procedure, Karmazin said.

Young blood and anti-aging: ‘There’s no reality here’

Conboy’s research was one of a handful of studies that initially inspired Karmazin to pursue young blood transfusions for anti-aging benefits.

But she told Business Insider that Karmazin’s work was based on an “incorrect interpretation.”

“Not only is it incorrect, it’s dangerous,” Conboy said.

In 2005, Conboy pioneered a study using parabiosis, a 150-year-old surgical technique that connects the veins of two living animals, to see whether the blood from a younger mouse could have benefits on an older mouse.

And while she did observe some benefits as a result of the procedure, she pointed out to Business Insider that the animals weren’t simply swapping blood – the older rodent was also reaping the benefits of the younger one’s more vibrant internal organs and circulatory system too. Conboy believes that – not the young blood itself – is likely what accounted for the positive effects she saw.

“When old and young mice are sutured together they share organs too – including their kidneys and all the important filtering organs,” Conboy told Business Insider. “Imagine you had a new liver. You’d probably see benefits too.”

Conboy followed up that work with a more recent study in 2016 to see what would happen if she merely exchanged the rodents’ blood without connecting their bodies in any way. She found that while the muscle tissue in the older mice appeared to benefit slightly from the younger blood, they still couldn’t say for sure that these modest benefits were coming from the young blood itself. After all, the experiment had also fundamentally changed the older mouse blood by diluting it.

“Something about the old blood seemed to be having a negative effect, yes, but young blood was not capable of rejuvenation,” Conboy said.

Michael Conboy said part of the problem is simply the fact that there’s too much old blood for the young blood to have a substantial effect on its own.

“Is there really something in the young blood that would override all the negative effects from the old blood?” Conboy said. “Until someone repeats that I’m not sure that I believe it. Even scientists with the best of intentions can observe something that’s a fluke.”

Meanwhile, the Conboys said there are substantial risks with giving older people the young blood of donors. Those include a heightened immune response which is triggered with increasing magnitude every time the procedure is completed.

A 2012 study published in the journal Transfusion outlines the risks of blood transfusions and includes these risks, as does published work from the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

“Every time you do it you’re magnifying your immune response,” Michael Conboy said. “Reputable physicians who do this for life-threatening conditions know this risk.”

A controversial startup that charges $8,000 to fill your veins with young blood is opening its first clinic

A controversial startup that charges $8,000 to fill your veins with young blood is opening its first clinic

source
Getty Images/Joern Pollex
  • A startup called Ambrosia Medical that charges $8,000 to fill your veins with the blood of young people plans to launch its first clinic in New York City at the end of this year.
  • Founded by Stanford graduate Jesse Karmazin, the company recently completed the first clinical trial designed to assess the benefits of young blood transfusions.
  • Although his team has not yet published the results of the trial, Karmazin said the results were “really positive.”

To startup founder and Stanford Medical graduate Jesse Karmazin, blood is the next big government-approved drug.

Karmazin recently launched Ambrosia Medical – a startup that fills the veins of older people with fresh blood from young donors – in the hopes that the procedure will help conquer aging by rejuvenating the body’s organs. The company plans to open its first clinic in New York City by the end of this year, Karmazin told Business Insider.

In 2017, Ambrosia enrolled people in the first US clinical trial designed to find out what happens when the veins of adults are filled with blood from the young.

While the results of that study have not yet been made public, Karmazin told Business Insider the results were “really positive.”

Because blood transfusions are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Ambrosia’s approach has the green-light to continue as an off-label treatment. There appears to be significant interest: since putting up its website last week, the company has received roughly 100 inquiries about how to get the treatment, David Cavalier, Ambrosia’s chief operating officer, told Business Insider. That led to the creation of the company’s first waiting list, Cavalier said.

“So many people were reaching out to us that we wanted to make a simple way for them to be added to the list,” Cavalier said.

With that in mind, Cavalier and Karmazin are currently scouting a number of potential clinic locations in New York City and organizing talks with potential investors. They hope to open the facility by the end of this year.

“New York would be the flagship location,” Karmazin said.

The first clinical trial of its kind

A bag of red blood cells.

caption
A bag of red blood cells.
source
Joern Pollex/Getty Images

Because blood tranfusions are already approved by federal regulators, Ambrosia does not need to demonstrate that its treatment carries significant benefits before offering it to customers.

So far, the company has already infused close to 150 patients ranging in age from 35 to 92 with the blood of young donors, Cavalier said. Of those, 81 were participants in their clinical trial.

The trial, which involved giving patients 1.5 liters of plasma from a donor between the ages of 16 and 25 over two days, was conducted with physician David Wright, who owns a private intravenous-therapy center in Monterey, California. Before and after the infusions, participants’ blood was tested for a handful of biomarkers, or measurable biological substances and processes that are thought to provide a snapshot of health and disease.

People in the trial paid $8,000 to participate. The company hasn’t settled on a commercial pricetag for the procedure, Karmazin said.

“The trial was an investigational study. We saw some interesting things and we do plan to publish that data. And we want to begin to open clinics where the treatment will be made available,” Cavalier said.

Karmazin added that the trial showed the treatment to be very safe.

“The safety profile was essentially perfect, or as good as plasma transfusions are,” Karmazin said.

Young blood and anti-aging: Are there any benefits?

Karmazin is right about the safety of blood transfusions and their capacity to save lives.

A simple blood transfusion, which involves hooking up an IV and pumping the plasma of a healthy person into the veins of someone who’s undergone surgery or been in a car crash, for example, is one of the safest life-saving procedures available. Every year in the US, nurses perform about 14.6 million of them, which means about 40,000 blood transfusions happen on any given day.

But as far as young blood is concerned – and its alleged potential to fight aging – the science remains unclear.

“There’s just no clinical evidence [that the treatment will be beneficial], and you’re basically abusing people’s trust and the public excitement around this,” Stanford University neuroscientist Tony Wyss-Coray, who led a 2014 study of young plasma in mice, recently told Science magazine.

Karmazin is still optimistic. He got the idea for his company as a medical student at Stanford and an intern at the National Institute on Aging, where he watched dozens of traditional blood transfusions performed safely.

“Some patients got young blood and others got older blood, and I was able to do some statistics on it, and the results looked really awesome,” Karmazin told Business Insider last year. “And I thought, this is the kind of therapy that I’d want to be available to me.”

So far, no one knows if young blood transfusions can be reliably linked to a single health benefit in people.

Karmazin said “many” of the roughly 150 people who’ve received the treatment have noted benefits that include renewed focus, better memory and sleep, and improved appearance and muscle tone.

But it’s tough to quantify these benefits before the study findings are made public. There’s also the possibility that simply traveling to a lab in Monterey and paying to enroll in the study could have made patients feel better.

Studies in mice don’t necessarily translate to results in people

Karmazin was inspired to create his blood infusion treatment after seeing seeing several mouse studies that involve parabiosis, a 150-year-old surgical technique that connects the veins of two living animals. (The word comes from the Greek words para, or “beside,” and bio, or “life.”)

Irina Conboy, a bioengineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley who pioneered one of these parabiosis studies in mice in 2005, found evidence that the exchange had done something positive for the health of the older mouse who received the blood of the younger mouse. But the animals weren’t simply swapping blood – the older rodent was also reaping the benefits of the younger one’s more vibrant internal organs and circulatory system.

In other words, the researchers couldn’t say for sure whether it was the blood itself that was doing the apparent reviving or if the fact that the animals were linked in other ways was responsible for those perceived benefits.

In 2016, Conboy and her team ran another study to see what would happen if they merely exchanged the rodents’ blood without connecting their bodies in any way. They found that while the muscle tissue in the older mice appeared to benefit slightly from the younger blood, they still couldn’t say for sure that these modest benefits were coming from the young blood itself. After all, the experiment had also fundamentally changed the older mouse blood by diluting it.

“The effects of young blood on old tissue seems to be rejuvenating; however, there is no concrete evidence that young blood is what is causing the change in results. It may very well be the dilution of old blood,” Ranveer Gathwala, a UC Berkeley stem-cell researcher in Conboy’s lab who co-authored the 2016 paper, previously told Business Insider.

Nevertheless, Karmazin remains hopeful that the benefits he said he’s witnessing are the result of young blood transfusions.

“I’m really happy with the results we’re seeing,” he said.

A new study just found that taking aspirin doesn’t necessarily help healthy older people — here’s what you need to know

A new study just found that taking aspirin doesn’t necessarily help healthy older people — here’s what you need to know

Bayer aspirin is seen at the Safeway store in Wheaton Maryland

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Bayer aspirin is seen at the Safeway store in Wheaton Maryland
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Thomson Reuters
  • A new study found that daily low-dose aspirin use does not increase health and lifespan in relatively healthy elderly people over the age of 70.
  • It also didn’t seem to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in these individuals.
  • This study serves as a contradiction to previous belief that aspirin can decrease risk of death and risk of developing cardiovascular conditions.

Several years ago, many physicians floated the idea of using a regimen of low-dose daily aspirin to prevent cardiovascular diseases in the elderly.

This was informed by the fact that aspirin is known and proven to help people prevent a second heart attack and stroke.

But a NIH-funded study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week found that the use of low-dose aspirin as a primary prevention strategy in older adults did not significantly lower the risk of cardiovascular disease than placebo. It was also found to increase risk of major hemorrhage or bleeding.

The study ran for four years and enrolled 19,114 people over the age of 70 with no indications of dementia, physical disabilities, or medical conditions that required the use of aspirin.

The study found that treatment with 100 mg of low-dose aspirin per day did not significantly impact the health and lifespans of these individuals. In fact, the group taking aspirin had an slightly elevated risk of death compared to the placebo group (5.9% vs 5.3%). The regimen also did not lower the rate of cancer-related death, counter to previous beliefs.

Aspirin is a blood-thinner, and it works by interfering with the function of platelets, which play an important role in clotting. Blood clots can form when an artery is narrowed by cholesterol. When blood flow to the heart is cut out, it can lead to a heart attack. Aspirin, by reducing the clumping action in the blood, can lower the risks of these deadly clots.

Tech elites are paying $7,000 to freeze stem cells from liposuctioned fat as a ‘back up’ for a longer life

Tech elites are paying $7,000 to freeze stem cells from liposuctioned fat as a ‘back up’ for a longer life

source
Shutterstock
  • A startup called Forever Labs freezes and stores people’s stem cells as a kind of back-up drive for their future selves.
  • The company is now offering a way to bank stem cells from fat stores instead of bone marrow.
  • Stem cells have a range of potential therapeutic uses in conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, since they can turn into any kind of cell.
  • But for now, stem cells are used only for very limited purposes, like treating cancer.

Your next effort to prolong your life could involve an awkward conversation with your plastic surgeon. Don’t throw away the fat you’ve just removed from my liposuction procedure, you might ask them. Instead, save the excess material because it’s rich in stem cells.

Beginning this week, longevity startup Forever Labs will offer its customers the ability to bank the stem cells in their fat stores – the same material that’s removed and destroyed after liposuction. Those stem cells are seen as a key component of health. Some believe they may also hold the keys to a longer, better life.

Founded in 2015, Forever Labs collaborates with a network of specialized doctors to siphon stem cells from customers’ bone marrow. The company is now also partnering with some plastic surgeons to allow people who are already undergoing liposuction to bank the stem cells from the fat that would otherwise be discarded.

“If you’re going to throw them in the garbage, you might as well bank them,” Mark Katakowski, Forever Labs’ co-founder and CEO, told Business Insider.

Forever Labs then freezes the stem cells, delivers them to one of its cell-banking facilities, and maintains them under careful conditions. The hope is that one day, more advanced science will allow patients to have their own young cells injected back into their bodies. According to this line of thinking, these cells could then do everything from fight aging to help treat diseases like diabetes.

“This is like a back-up,” Katakowski said.

To harvest a customer’s stem cells from the bone marrow extracted by an orthopedic surgeon, Forever Labs charges $2,500 for the procedure plus $250 per year for storage – or a one-time payment of $7,000. The new method using fat is $1,000 cheaper for the procedure, but the annual storage fees or one-time payment cost the same.

What a bank of your stem cells might be used for

A tray of stem cells at the University of Connecticut's Stem Cell Institute.

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A tray of stem cells at the University of Connecticut’s Stem Cell Institute.
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Getty Images/Spencer Platt

A medical physicist and former research scientist for the Henry Ford Health System in Michigan, Katakowski was spurred to bank his own stem cells in 2015 after studying their therapeutic potential in mice.

Stem cells are unique because they can develop into many different cell types, from those that make up muscle tissue to those that form the neurons in our brain. For that reason, scientists have long hoped that stem cells could be used to regenerate failing tissues or organs as an alternative to transplants, which are expensive, time-consuming, and come with a risk of rejection. Instead of getting a transplanted kidney from a donor, for example, a patient could one day hope to receive a sample of his or her own stem cells, programmed to generate a new kidney.

But stem cells are only widely used today for one procedure: bone marrow transplants. The transplants are typically used by leukemia patients who undergo the treatment in conjunction with chemotherapy as a means of replacing the healthy stem cells that the chemo has destroyed.

“Right now that’s the only approved use of stem cells,” Allison Mayle, a cancer researcher at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, told Business Insider.

In recent years, scientists have been studying how to use stem cells to treat a range of other conditions that involve a specific type of failing cell, such as type 1 diabetes (where the body’s immune system destroys the pancreas’ insulin-producing beta cells), macular degeneration, and heart disease. So far, however, those trials have only included a very small number of patients; more extensive studies have only been carried out in lab animals.

Ronna Parsa, a Los Angeles-based orthopedic surgeon, contracts with Forever Labs to do bone marrow stem cell draws. Since she started in March, she’s done roughly five procedures, she said. Parsa also banked her own stem cells with Forever Labs.

“After doing the research I can just see the vast potential for these types of therapies in the future,” Parsa told Business Insider. “By freezing my 32-year-old stem cells, hopefully when I’m 50 or 60 or 70 I can use those.”

Mayle agrees that the therapies could have potential, but she isn’t sure they’ll come to fruition in time for most patients to see a benefit.

“Would this be something that’s going to happen in our lifetime? It’s hard to tell,” Mayle said. “There certainly are things that could work in the next five to ten years, but they also might not.”

‘An ace in my pocket’

Nevertheless, stem cell banking is beginning to emerge as a trend. One recent report projected that the global stem cell banking market would grow from $6.3 billion in 2018 to $9.3 billion by 2023. Katakowski wouldn’t share how many customers he’s had so far, but said most hail from areas with tech meccas, like Silicon Valley and New York City.

In the US, hundreds of providers currently offer stem cell banking. A handful also offer unproven anti-aging therapies using the cells. One such company, Houston-based Celltex Therapeutics, used to inject patients with retrieved stem cells, and once treated Texas governor Rick Perry. But Celltex stopped offering the service in the US in 2012 after regulators warned them that they lacked federal approval.

Katakowski said Forever Labs is not offering any stem cell therapies, just the ability to store the cells until peer-reviewed science makes proven therapies available.

“In the back of your mind you know you’ve got it,” Katakowski said. “It gives you a little piece of mind. Is it going to be a get-out-of-jail-free card or an ace in my pocket? It might.”

A 77-year-old doctor diagnosed himself with a deadly lung problem while climbing Everest — here’s how he survived

A 77-year-old doctor diagnosed himself with a deadly lung problem while climbing Everest — here’s how he survived

Ronald Crystal, 77, hiked 18,000 feet high on Everest in April. But things didn't go exactly as planned after that.

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Ronald Crystal, 77, hiked 18,000 feet high on Everest in April. But things didn’t go exactly as planned after that.
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Ronald Crystal/Weill Cornell
  • Mount Everest is an extremely dangerous climb. Many hikers contract a lung condition called high-altitude pulmonary edema that can be deadly.
  • The best way to fight the condition is to get down.
  • 77-year-old lung doctor Ronald Crystal diagnosed his own case of the dangerous fluid buildup on the mountain in April. Here’s his story.

Climbing Mount Everest is a risky, life-threatening endeavor.

If you don’t fall off an icy cliff, you could develop hypothermia, or fluid might build up in your lungs or brain. At least three climbers perished on Everest this year, according to reports from the New York Times. A 35-year-old Japanese climber fell to his death, a 63-year-old Macedonian man collapsed from a probable heart attack, and a sherpa named Lam Babu mysteriously went missing, leaving behind his shoes and bag.

So when 77-year-old doctor Ron Crystal decided to hike the world’s tallest mountain, he came prepared.

“I’m a pulmonary physician, so I had an instrument with me called an oxygen saturation meter,” Crystal told Business Insider. “It’s a little instrument you put on your finger and you can measure the amount of oxygen in your blood.”

Little did Crystal know that on his second day on the mountain, he’d develop a dangerous lung problem and have to use his medical expertise, along with that instrument, to save his own life.

Crystal planned to climb to an altitude of 23,000 feet. He wasn’t interested in reaching the top of the 29,029-foot peak; he wanted to do the same icy climb that mountaineer Sir George Mallory accomplished in 1921. That was the first Everest attempt on record – Mallory was performing a kind of scouting mission, hoping to later be the first to summit.

When asked why he wanted to climb the world’s highest peak by the New York Times in 1923, Mallory reportedly said, “because it’s there.” He died on the mountain the following year while attempting to summit. Thirty-two years later, Sir Edmond Hillary became the first known person to summit the peak with sherpa Tensing Norgay.

Mallory’s spirit of exploration captivated Crystal.

“I thought that a great goal would be to try to repeat what the British did in 1921, and try to reach 23,000 feet,” he said. “It’s an interesting climb, but it involves some ice climbing, and it’s high.”

Training to survive at 23,000 feet

Crystal said there were plenty of yaks around to keep the hikers company.

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Crystal said there were plenty of yaks around to keep the hikers company.
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Ronald Crystal/Weill Cornell

The oldest person to ever successfully climb Everest was 80, just three years Crystal’s senior.

But Crystal is no stranger to physical exertion: He has run 23 marathons and scaled the Pico de Orizaba in Mexico, which is nearly 18,500 feet. He wakes up at 5:30 every morning to hop on a stationary bike in his home.

To get ready for Everest, Crystal said he ramped up his training about 20%. The routine included three personal training sessions per week, focusing on core and general strength training. Crystal also turned his 34th-floor apartment into its own little mountain, climbing the stairs wearing his pack and bulky, knee-high mountaineering boots several times a week.

In April, it was time to head to Everest.

A view of Everest from Crystal's base camp, on the North side of the peak in Tibet.

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A view of Everest from Crystal’s base camp, on the North side of the peak in Tibet.
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Ronald Crystal/Weill Cornell

After about traveling through Nepal and Tibet, Crystal arrived at base camp. He was hiking with the help of one sherpa and two other climbers from France.

“I was actually doing better than my guides,” Crystal said. “They had headaches. I was doing fine.”

The next day, the team started acclimating to the altitude and preparing for their ultimate trek by hiking to a slightly higher elevation.

“There’s an advanced base camp, which is at the base of the snow and ice climb,” Crystal said.

That’s where the group was headed when Crystal started to feel something was amiss.

“I was just feeling just not well, just not strong,” he said. “When we got back to the base camp, I checked my oxygen saturation and it was down to significantly below anybody else.”

Lungs on Everest can become dangerously leaky

Our red blood cells should normally be completely saturated with oxygen, near 100%. Crystal’s hiking partners were running counts around 82-84%, but his was 78%. His heart was beating faster, too, and he was starting to feel breathless whenever he laid his head down.

“My resting pulse, which is usually about 63 or so, was 95,” he said.

The doctor quickly realized what this all meant: he was developing a condition called high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), a buildup of excess fluid in the lungs. When that fluid collects in air sacs, it makes it tough to breathe.

People assumed HAPE sufferers just had bad cases of high-altitude pneumonia until the 1890s, when the first fatal case was formally diagnosed.

The phenomenon still isn’t well understood. It can happen in people young and old, fit and fat. And it manifests at various altitudes, depending on whether you’re used to thin air. Sherpas who are born at higher altitudes tend to be less susceptible to the lung problem, and scientists are studying why that’s the case. Doctors think that increasing pressure on blood vessels near the lungs might cause HAPE, but they’re not sure.

Some of the first signs of trouble can include headaches, shortness of breath, difficulty walking, and even a bloody cough.

HAPE is a common problem on Everest, though according to a 2008 study published in the BMJ, high-altitude pulmonary edema is not as fatal on Everest as high-altitude cerebral edema, when fluid buildup hits the brain instead of the lungs.

Crystal knew what to do: “The best treatment is to get down,” he said. “I realized that probably the best thing was to abandon the climb.”

He’d read plenty of stories about people who didn’t listen to their bodies, then died on the mountain. He didn’t want to become one of the frozen corpses climbers must pass.

[Read more: What the top of Mount Everest is really like, according to the woman who’s been there a record-breaking 9 times]

Crystal's helicopter picked him up in Nepal.

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Crystal’s helicopter picked him up in Nepal.
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Ronald Crystal/Weill Cornell

When things go wrong on Everest

Luckily, Crystal had purchased insurance for the occasion. He hiked over the Tibetan plateau into Nepal, about a seven hour trek, where he met a helicopter. A doctor in Kathmandu was familiar with his symptoms.

“In New York City, you don’t see a lot of high-altitude pulmonary edema,” Crystal said. “This doctor had seen 200 cases! He knew far more than I did about it.”

Crystal’s total hospital bill – including an ambulance ride and a battery of blood and heart tests – came out to $360 US dollars.

“If that had been in New York City, it would probably be $10,000,” he said.

Despite having to give up on his climb, Crystal said the experience was a lesson in the importance of setting and keeping goals as he ages.

“Pursuing the goal, I think that’s what helps you stay young,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter what your age is, it doesn’t matter whether you really reach the goal, its having the goal and working toward the goal that’s the important part.”

Besides, there are other plenty of other mountains to climb. Because they’re there.

A shot of Everest, taken by Crystal.

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A shot of Everest, taken by Crystal.
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Ronald Crystal/Weill Cornell

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