Grabbing a scalpel, Vladislav Zaitsev makes an incision in the skin fold between the thumb and the index of his client and pushes a small glass cylinder.
Alexei Rautkin, a 24-year-old programmer with a hoodie, has a chip inserted in his hand so he can open his office door without passing a card.
“It’s something I decided a long time ago,” he says.
“Mainly because it is convenient, but there is also a kind of exclusivity, because virtually nobody else has this.”
Rautkin and Zaitsev are among a growing number of Russians interested in biohacking, a global movement whose followers seek to “update” their bodies with experimental technology and DIY health solutions that began in Silicon Valley at the beginning of the last decade.
For some, the lifestyle trend involves implanting technology under their skin.
For others, mainly wealthy Russians, the search is to live longer, what they hope to do through intensive monitoring of their bodies, taking large amounts of supplements or extreme exercise.
Although it is not clear how many biohackers are in Russia, the movement is spreading, with social media forums, conferences and companies emerging to meet their needs.
Zaitsev, a programmer with a duck haircut, taught himself to insert chips, aided by the fact that he is a medical school dropout.
The 28-year-old drew national attention in 2015 by removing the chip from a Moscow subway pass, dissolving it in acetone and wrapping it in silicone before inserting it into the back of his hand.
The disk, about the size of a British penny, is still visible but is currently extinct: Zaitsev rescheduled it with the details of the bank card, only for the bank to close.
It also has magnets on the fingertips, mainly for party tricks.
He says the biohacking movement is about using technology to facilitate specific tasks.
“In biohacking, I like things that give a real and confirmed effect, for example, putting chips,” he says.
Based on the contact between the united community on social networks, he estimates that about 1,000 Russians are splintered.
Most install work passes, he says, while some insert magnets or a compass implant that vibrates when they turn north.
“I like the idea of expanding the capabilities of the human body.”
Around the world, implanted microchips are being used to start cars, turn on smartphones, computers and printers, control body temperature and store medical information or as business cards.
Professional magicians even use them to improve their tricks.
Some chips have been approved for human use, but Zaitsev said he uses veterinarians made in Taiwan and ordered about 500 rubles ($ 8) each.
While some have expressed concern about possible surveillance and piracy, the number of people with a chip is very small in Russia and, unlike smartphones, the chips do not convey the location of users.
Flat study surgery
In his study, Zaitsev charges Rautkin 2,000 rubles ($ 32) for the operation to insert the chip that is slightly larger than a grain of rice. He has also contributed another 50, he says.
The “typical customer is a geek,” he adds. “The majority are men 35 years old or younger.”
However, other biohackers have little time to splinter.
The businessman Stanislav Skakun says that biohacking is about extending life, potentially for thousands of years, an idea known as transhumanism.
“I still haven’t found a chip that is useful for prolonging life … I still don’t see any point to do it,” said the 36-year-old.
Instead, he regularly attends a private clinic where nurses fill about 20 test tubes with their blood for analysis.
It is only part of your exhaustive routine in the past five years, measuring hundreds of biochemical markers and taking a handful of vitamins and supplements daily.
Although he refuses to talk in detail about what he takes, he says the supplements include iodine, vitamin D, magnesium and prebiotics.
In addition to genetic tests to identify personal risk factors and compensate for them, it undergoes tests for inflammation, cholesterol, glucose, bone density, cortisol stress hormone and the efficiency of your immune system.
With penetrating blue eyes, Skakun states that “in the last five years, my biological age has not changed at all.”
He hopes to live long enough to see scientific advances extend life massively.
“If we conquer cancer, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular diseases, we will avoid virtually all the reasons we die,” he said.
These ideas are promoted by international defenders of transhumanism, such as the controversial British gerontologist Aubrey de Gray, who believes that humans can significantly extend their lifespan and will only die from accidents or violence.
Currently, the oldest registered human, Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment, died at the age of 122.
Some biohackers have made great advances in gene therapy, one of the hottest areas of medical research.
Controversially, American biohacker Josiah Zayner, who is a scientist, broadcast live in 2017 an experimental attempt to alter his own DNA using a new gene editing technology called Crispr.
The tool, informally known as molecular “scissors,” is being used to treat genetic conditions, such as sickle cell disease, and has made gene editing more accessible.
But the US Food and Drug Administration. UU. He has expressed concern about the safety risks involved in the DIY kits available to the public for self-administered genetic therapies.
Kiran Musunuru, a professor of genetics at the University of Pennsylvania, says that Crispr’s “scissors” often cut next to the target gene, causing unexpected mutations.
“It’s very easy to do if you don’t care about the consequences,” Musunuru added.
The leading American scientific journal, Science, said last July that the tools for public and private regulators to manage the public health risks of biohacking were already largely available.
“But they should be used better,” he said, in an opinion piece.
Maxim Skulachev, a Russian biologist at Moscow State University who studies longevity, said biohackers were right to say that aging can be programmed into our genes and, in theory, could be blocked.
“We believe that aging was introduced in some way into our genome as a program,” he said.
“For us, the only way to combat aging is to somehow break this program, hack it.”
In doing so, this could end age-related diseases and cancer, he said, adding that living up to 100 years would become the new norm.
However, it also predicts that the elderly will develop other health problems that will limit their lifespan and have not yet manifested.
The problem with biohackers is that they “run too fast,” said Skulachev, 46, whose team is trying to find a drug that interferes with the genetic aging process.
“At this time there is no technology to break this program and from this point of view … biohackers are involved in an illusion.”
However, biohacking in Russia is already “a big movement” with conferences and business, says Skakun, who previously worked in corporate finance.
Two years ago he founded a startup called Biodata that organizes tests for clients and stores information, charging 150,000 rubles ($ 2,430) for a complete check.
Clients are “mainly senior managers and entrepreneurs,” he said.
Wealthy clients also pay annually up to 250,000 rubles ($ 4,050) for a gymnasium in Moscow that calls itself a “biohacking laboratory”.
The gym, which opened last year with the slogan “Upgrade Yourself,” is located on the 58th floor of a skyscraper in the financial district.
Similarly, the members are “business owners or top managers,” says founder Artyom Vasilyev.
The thin 29-year-old entered the science of sport after seriously competing as a runner.
On the tape, a member of the gym puts on a mask to analyze the gases in his breath.
Minutes later, you get a breakdown that shows when your training was most effective.
Then, it stops in a chamber cooled by liquid nitrogen at minus 120 degrees Celsius (minus 184 Fahrenheit), which Vasilyev says helps recovery.
Despite all his enthusiasm, Vasilyev doubts that people will live for hundreds of years in the short term.
“I like more the idea that you can live 100, 115 years or 120 years, but live them in a good quality way.”
Zaitsev, the chip enthusiast, is scathing about the search for longevity, which he calls “a kind of religion” that looks for a “magic pill.”
A month after implantation, Rautkin is using his splintered hand to open doors in his e-commerce company.
Unfortunately it does not work at the front door, but he is philosophical about it.
“I am using it quite successfully,” he says.
“It is not a problem to delete it or leave it for another use, possibly to identify myself elsewhere, perhaps to unlock a phone or laptop.”