Sunday, May 11, 2014

Blood Lust

“Young blood….I can’t get you out of my mind.” — The Coasters, 1957

Want to live to be 100?  Or beyond?
I’m not sure I want to hit three figures on the birthday scale unless I’m assured of a sound mind and body. As we have all learned, however, life doesn’t come with a guarantee.
Besides, not even the godfather of fitness, Jack LaLanne, could make it to that milestone. And my lifestyle falls somewhat short of his Spartan existence.
So I won’t be packing my roller blades when I get sent off to the elder shelter. A nice pair of slippers will do.
Then there’s the fact that the Century Club is pretty much ladies only. According to the U.S. Census, 81 per cent of centenarians are women.
Case in point: My dad at age 94, seeking to revisit the rough and tumble world of male fellowship, tried to start a Men’s Club at this retirement home.
It was not well attended. At the initial meeting, three other gentlemen showed up. All were in wheelchairs. Two of them slept through the proceedings. Meeting adjourned.
According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, most Americans don’t want to stick around much longer than current life expectancy (approximately 77 for men, 82 for women). Sixty percent don’t want to live past 90. Thirty percent don’t want to live past 80.
People who make lots of money don’t want longer lives any more than the rest of us do. Nor do people who think there’s no afterlife.
And yet....
There are some 55,000 centenarians in the U.S. these days, and the number could increase as the population ages and health care evolves. A century ago, the number was near zero.
Bottom line: They may drag you kicking and screaming to 100 whether you want to go or not.
What’s it like to be 100? According to a study by United Healthcare, 36 per cent of those who reach that age feel “blessed” and 31 per cent say they are happy. Most of my friends and I would fall into a new category: “shocked.”
When asked which stage of life they remembered most fondly, nearly 25 per cent chose their 20s. Almost none embraced their 70s, 80s and 90s. Of course, being centenarians, a majority said they don’t remember.
Many in the study said they would like to have dinner with President Obama although he was facing stiff competition from Betty White. Least likely to be invited to dine were Kim Kardashian and Kayne West but most admitted they had no idea who they were. I doubt familiarity would have changed the result.
The secret to a long life?
More than 90 percent answered “staying close to friends and family” followed by maintaining a sense of independence, eating right and having a sense of humor.
Well and good. But there is a new factor in the longevity game, one recently disclosed by scientists that re-interprets the old saying that “youth is wasted on the young.”
A trio of new studies has discovered that the blood of young mice appears to reverse some of the effects of aging when put into the circulatory systems of elderly mice, according to a story in the Washington Post.
After combining the blood circulations of two mice by conjoining them — one old, the other young — researchers found dramatic improvements in the older mouse’s muscle and brain.
They later discovered that injections of a special protein found abundantly in young blood — or even transfusions of whole young blood — give the same advantages as sharing a blood supply.
Old mice who were injected with the protein or who received a blood transfusion navigated mazes faster and ran longer on treadmills. They easily outperformed their control peers, who were given only saline.
I presume the young mice in the experiment became instantly grumpy, yelling "get off of my lawn."
While this may be news to scientists, many of us suspect this is exactly the sort of thing that has kept Mick Jagger and Keith Richards alive for years. Then there’s the whole Dracula legend although I’m not sure the Count was finicky about the age of his subjects since he is reportedly several centuries old.
Aside from the amusing if not bizarre notion of seniors becoming an army of bloodsuckers, there is a serious side to all of this.
Neuroscientist Tony Wyss-Coray of Stanford University said he hopes to dive into human studies immediately. His new startup, Alkahest, is planning the first young-blood clinical trial at Stanford this year, according to the Post story.
Patients with Alzheimer’s disease will be given young blood, with researchers measuring their cognitive condition before and after.
“Right now we can’t do anything for Alzheimer’s patients, and this seems so easy and simple,” Wyss-Coray said.
The young mice in the three studies were the human equivalent of people in their 20s, so this would probably be the age range for donors used in a clinical trial. He said treating the big-picture issue of aging could in turn ease the burden of many diseases.
There is one of word of caution from researchers:   No matter how tempted, don't try a transfusion at home.

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