Weird Science

The Life Extension Foundation claims it'll add years to your life with pills and cancer profiles. As long as you have the money.

When told of this discrepancy, Schandl clarifies by saying that he simply rented space and materials owned by the institute.

Schandl says he perfected the cancer-profile test throughout the '80s, while working as laboratory director at several South Florida labs. In 1994 he founded American Metabolic Testing Laboratories and, around the same time, heard Faloon talking about the Life Extension Foundation on radio shows. Schandl had seen LEF advertisements in newspapers, and he started picking up copies of Life Extension magazine. Although he was impressed with some of LEF's innovations, he noticed repeated inaccuracies in interpretation in its literature.

Feeling he could lend some credibility to the organization, Schandl offered to help LEF out as an unpaid consultant. Faloon says he thought it was a great idea: Members with questions could consult someone with expertise. Schandl was soon named LEF's scientific director, and in turn LEF began promoting the cancer-profile test and throwing blood tests his way. On his end Schandl promotes LEF's treatments and supplements.

A cozy relationship, for sure. But Clara Lawhead, a licensed nutrition counselor and the president of the Florida Council Against Health Fraud, says the LEF tests and treatments play on people's fears about death and aging. Moreover, patients spend hundreds of dollars a year on blood tests, then thousands more on LEF-suggested supplements, increasing both Schandl's and LEF's bottom lines.

"Anytime you find both the practitioner who offers a diagnosis and the treatment in the same facility, the patient should be wary," she warns.

In LEF's early days, there was no bottom line. What is now an organization that brings in as much as $27 million a year began in 1973 as just a dozen strangers from South Florida interested in a a topic that had recently popped up on TV talk shows: cryonics. Cryonicists believe that if you freeze a body after death, you can preserve it until a cure comes along for whatever disease the person died of, then revive that person and bring him or her back to life with the new medicine.

Joe Cannon, a pioneer in cryonics, began getting phone calls after his talk show appearances, so he put some of those callers in touch with each other. A group formed in South Florida and held monthly meetings to discuss ways to raise money to help fund cryonics research.

"It was based on a fear of dying," Glen Tupler, one of LEF's founding members, says of the group's motivations. "You don't want life to end, and it's hard to face reality that it's going to end. So you do anything you can to extend it."

In 1976 the group invited Saul Kent, a former writer for science magazines and journals and the founder of the New York Cryonics Society, to meet with them. One of the group members was Bill Faloon, a mortician and funeral director originally from Pittsburgh, who, like Kent, was interested in turning immortality into a full-time job.

Kent asked Faloon to help form a foundation to encourage antiaging research and provide alternative health information to its members. Faloon agreed, and in 1982 the Life Extension Foundation was formed as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.

It wasn't long before LEF found itself in the public eye. In 1987 Kent's 83-year-old mother, Dora, lay in a vegetative state in a California nursing home. One December day he checked her out and brought her to a cryonics laboratory in Riverside, California. She died there a few days later, and cryonics researchers loaded her up with barbiturates to slow the decomposition process, according to press reports.

With Kent's approval researchers lowered his mother's body temperature to below freezing and severed her head. The head, Kent reasoned, would be stored in a Thermos-like container and eventually resuscitated and reattached to a cloned version of his mother's body. Storing just the head would also be cheaper, and Kent figured that by the time researchers developed the technology capable of resuscitating his mother they'd also be able to clone her body.

The Riverside County coroner had other ideas. He believed the researchers had killed Mrs. Kent by giving her a lethal dose of drugs before she'd actually died. An investigation, however, yielded no evidence to support the theory. No charges were filed, and Mrs. Kent's head is still stored in a cryonics facility in Scottsdale, Arizona.

While cryonics was the starting point for LEF, the group quickly branched into other areas, such as herbal- and dietary-supplement and vitamin sales. LEF's main goal, Faloon says, is to develop life-extension therapies.

Vitamin sales pay for the majority of LEF's expenses, and the money raised, Faloon says, goes to people like Dr. Roy Walford, a pathologist at UCLA who has studied the effect of calorie restriction on aging. Walford said LEF is the only vitamin company he knows of that puts money into research.

Verifying Walford's claim isn't easy. Federal law requires charitable nonprofit agencies to disclose, upon request, the past three years of completed IRS-990 forms. Each tax form lists the charity's assets, expenses, and total contributions made that year. Florida law requires that the form also be filed with the state. As soon as the form is filed, the organization is officially registered with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Faloon, however, refused to share copies of the IRS forms. And LEF has never filed with the state.

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