‘Vampire therapy’ could reverse aging, scientists find

 

There’s a long tradition of craving blood  for its restorative powers. It’s everywhere in our history and mythology: high priests sacrificing children, victors in battle drinking the blood of brave enemies and, of course, vampires. But what if there’s some actual science behind it?

Apparently scientists have discovered that young blood could reverse the aging process and maybe even cure Alzheimer’s Disease.

 

You can read all about it in this article from The Telegraph.

The article reports on two separate studies, both done with mice:

  • One study found that young blood can “recharge” the brain, forming new blood vessels and bolstering memory and learning
  • The second study identified a “youth protein” that keeps the brain and muscles young and strong. This protein, known as GDF11, is present in the bloodstream in large amounts when we’re young, but diminishes with age

Researchers hope to begin human trials within two to three years. “This should give us all hope for a healthier future,” says one of  the researches, Prof. Doug Melton, of Harvard University’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology. “We all wonder why we were stronger and mentally more agile when young, and these two unusually exciting papers actually point to a possible  answer. There seems to be little question that GDF11 has an amazing capacity to restore aging muscle and brain function.”

Needless to say, I’ll be watching this and updating you regularly.

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Harvard researcher on aging: There’s no ‘limit on the human lifespan.’

“Can we one day live to 150?” asks Harvard Medical School researcher David Sinclair.  “I don’t see why not; it’s just a matter of when.”  Is he serious? Well, he’s the man who did the research on resveratrol as a possible anti-aging molecule, and he’s doing new research. He’s prematurely aged mice, and is testing new molecules to try to bring them back to a younger state.

Will it work? Will it mean that humans can actually hit 150? “I don’t see why not,” he says. “It’s just a matter of when.”

Watch this video about Sinclair and his research here. 

Why are so many elderly Asians killing themselves?

According to this disturbing report on NBCNews.com, “the past decade has seen an astonishing spike in the rate of Asians over 65 choosing to end their lives early, particularly in the region’s economically successful countries.”

The stats are frightening:

  • In South Korea, for example, suicides in that age group have risen more than fivefold, from 14 per 100,000 in 1990 to 77 per 100,000 in 2009, according to Hallym University’s Institute of Aging.
  • In Taiwan, seniors took their lives more than twice as often as any other age group, at a rate of 35.8 per 100,000 in 2010, versus 17.6 for the national average.
  • Suicides among city dwellers in China aged 70 to 74 surged to 33.76 per 100,000 in the mid-2000s, up from 13.39 in the 1990s.

      And these numbers are expected to rise.

Even more scary, experts note that government data on elderly suicides is considered to be of poor quality because of many unreported cases. So the numbers could actually be higher.

Why is this happening?

In Asia, experts blame the rapid social and economic changes across the region and scarce mental health services. In some Asian countries a disproportionate number of suicides among elderly has followed financial or health crises, but experts are now looking at the social pressures being placed on the elderly by industrialization and population growth.

And if it’s bad now, the twin forces of greater life expectancy and fewer caregivers will make things worse.

“Now we are enjoying the best moments of this era. We have three to four young adults to support a family with one or two elderly persons,” says Frances Law, a former project director at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, one of the region’s leading institutions in suicide prevention.

“The potential risk is that as life expectancy is getting longer and longer, the dependency ratio is getting much larger. That is, there will be fewer people to support the elderly population in the coming 10 to 20 years.”

You can read the entire report here.

Watch me on The Zoomer, with Conrad Black and Denise Donlon, tonight at 9 on Vision TV

I’m pleased to be back on the panel again, and the topic is: the workplace. We had a lively discussion, and you’ll recognize many of the issues, from following this blog. Watch The Zoomer tonight (Monday, January 20) on Vision TV, at 9.00 p.m.

If you want more information on the program, visit the web site here. You can also watch my two previous appearances on the show, on October 15 when we discussed “age rage” and the apparent “war of the generations,” and on November 18 when we talked about the state of Zoomers – pensions, aging, and a whole lot more.

I hope you’ll be watching tonight — and let me know your reaction!

Survey says many fear Alzheimer’s, want to be tested

  Alzheimer’s is the second-most feared disease after cancer and many people say they would seek testing for themselves or a loved one even if they did not have symptoms, U.S. and European researchers say in a report presented to the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Paris.

Alzheimer’s now affects more than 35 million people worldwide, and research indicates the disease starts developing at least 10 years before the symptoms appear. This makes early testing extremely important.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Alzheimer Europe conducted a telephone survey of 2,678 adults aged 18 and older in the USA, Germany, France, Spain and Poland. The study was funded by Bayer AG, which is working on an imaging test  for early signs of Alzheimer’s.

When asked to identify the most feared disease (from a list of seven including cancer, stroke and heart disease), almost 25% said they fear Alzheimer’s the most. 85% said they’d see a doctor if they were experiencing confusion and memory loss, and 94% said they’d want early testing of family members.

The study also revealed considerable ignorance about the disease. Many thought there were already effective treatments that can slow it down, and almost 50% said they believed there was a reliable medical test to confirm whether people suffering from confusion or memory loss were in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. (Wrong on both counts – current drugs treat symptoms, but no drug has yet been shown to delay the advance of the disease. And so far, there are no reliable medical tests at the early stages.)

Signficantly, even healthy people with no symptoms are very interested in being tested. About 66% said they’d get tested to see if they were at risk for developing the disease.

Teacher, teacher

 

If you want a good preview of what longevity is going to do to all our established models – especially financial ones – here’s a lesson from the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

First, some background. It’s a massive – and very well-run – pension plan. It has over $107 billion    in assets, and posted an impressive 14.3% return in 2010. It owns or has owned some very big and high profile assets, too. For example, a 25% stake in Maple Leaf Foods (now sold), and 66% stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC soccer team (although this asset is apparently on the selling block). In 2010, it increased its commodities assets to $5.2 billion, up from $1.9 billion in 2009.

So we’re not talking about the little leagues here. In fact, it’s the largest single-profession pension plan in Canada, administering the pensions of 295,000 active and retired teachers in Ontario.

And yet it’s facing – in the words of Jim Leech, chief executive of the plan – “systemic funding problems.”

The plan pays out $1.8 billion more each year than it receives from contributions – a gap it projects will increase to $5.3 billion by 2030.

Why the shortfall?

“Our demographics have changed dramatically,” Leech said in an interview that was widely reported in Canadian newspapers.

No kidding. Have a look at these statistics:

  • 20 years ago, there were four active teachers per retiree. Today, the ratio is 1.5:1.
  • 20 years ago, the average teacher worked 29 years and collected pension benefits for 25 years. Today, the average career is 26 years and retirement benefits are paid out for 30 years.
  • Among the retirees are more than 90 people over the age of 10

Yikes. Teachers are collecting retirement benefits for more years than they were working. And as life spans continue to lengthen, that 100+ cohort will only get bigger.

“This is a dynamic that’s hitting every pension plan in the world,” Leech said. Fortunately for Ontario’s teachers, their fund is very strong and Leech and his team have plenty of time to take action. (“We can pay pensions for many, many years even if we didn’t have any other investment returns,” Leech noted, “but we have to think about the 70, 80 year horizon and that’s when you start to say maybe we should do some course corrections today.” )

But what about pension plans that aren’t as strong? (Hint: the entire US Social Security system)

What about benefits that already can’t be paid –  right this minute? (Hint: Europe)

And now people are going to live — shudder — even longer?