Me and my Shadow

Parabiosis: the idea is connecting the circulatory systems of two animals: mostly this has been done in mice. Interestingly, if you connect an old mouse to a young mouse, the young blood seems to rejuvenate the old mouse, improving its muscles and central nervous system.

Fairly recently, some people are looking fairly seriously at this in anti-aging research. But a lifetime ago, people were already thinking about it, enough so that parabiosis showed up every now and then in the world of ideas. Something like it exists in Brave New World. An improved, better-thought-out version plays in a role in Robert Heinlein’s novel Methuselah’s Children. There we find a group (the Howard families) that have long lives due to a program of selection [which is certainly possible, although slow]. Normals envy them and demand the secret – since there is none, the Howard Families are forced to flee. In their absence, the normals find the secret anyhow – they find artificial means of replicating the various biochemical mechanisms that resulted in extended lifespans in the Howard Families. One such method involved mass production of artificial ‘young” blood via tissue culture – which method is under active development today.

Peter Thiel is apparently interested in this and is even said to be taking plasma injections. Although I suspect he just thinks the cape is cool. Shaving must be hard.

Reminds me a bit of phage therapy: developed a lifetime ago, largely pushed to the side by antibiotics, but making a comeback. And of course it too was part of the mental furniture at one time – it’s central to the plot of Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis.

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35 Responses to Me and my Shadow

  1. Ron Pavellas says:

    Thanks for reminding me of Arrowsmith. I remember reading it at a young age and finding it revelatory, but I can’t remember the revelation. Got to re-read it now…

  2. MawBTS says:

    War of the Worlds. The Martians sustain themselves with transfusions of Terran blood. More obscurely, Junji Ito’s horror manga The Dark Drinks Blood involves trained vampire bats that “circulate” blood across empty air (for example, keeping a human head alive even after it has been torn away from its body).

    Gawker’s having lots of yuks comparing Thiel to a vampire, but since he’s a gay man, Thiel receiving blood is probably better than Thiel giving blood.

  3. Tim says:

    It looks like humanity is going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming to longer lifespans. Which they won’t dream of giving up once it arrives.

  4. jorge says:

    If it’s true that parabiosis has health benefits, this must have something to do with the origin of vampire stories? Get 10% of the benefits from drinking blood that you would get from an IV? Can’t wait to see the clinical trials on that one.

    But Greg – seriously – do you think parabiosis works, and could be a realistic therapy? If it works, we could solve youth unemployment and aging at the same time.

  5. dearieme says:

    “Monkey glands” were before my time but were presumably intended to have a similar effect? Or were they intended to have the same effect as Viagra?

    • Peter Lund says:

      I was about to mention them, too. I think they also used sheep.

      • AppSocRes says:

        Me too. Didn’t Yeats suffer from this kind of quackery?

        I remember research from decades or more ago that involved coupling the “circulatory systems” of young and old cockroaches and noticing a rejuvenation process in the older cockroaches. My immediate thought was that if I had a lot of money I’d regularly go to some corrupt third world country and pay large sums to a suitably matched peasant lad for a complete blood exchange and/or a filtering of blood through his body. Of course, there’s no telling what the long term consequences might play out.

    • syonredux says:

      “Monkey glands” were before my time but were presumably intended to have a similar effect? Or were they intended to have the same effect as Viagra?”

      Conan Doyle, in “The Adventure of the Creeping Man,” has an aging professor take a serum derived from a langur as a method of rejuvenation.The professor is engaged to a much-younger woman, you see, and thinks that he might not be up to the task. Sadly, taking the serum makes one desire to climb about in monkey-fashion…..

  6. IC says:

    Blood transfusion is a form of organ transplant.

    Replacing old parts with new ones always improves the performance of an old automobile, even partially. Human organs ages with wearing and tearing too. Human blood is important in terms of nutrient supply, hormonal regulation, fighting against infection (white cells), oxygen supply (red cells). New parts are always better.

    • Cloudswrest says:

      And just like organ transplants there is rejections. It’s called “Parabiosis Disease” in this case. Unless you have a younger clone you’re out of luck, unless they perfect more refined methods.

      • To avoid parabiosis disease we need to go to a clone bank around age thirty, before we go into decline, and make a tissue culture of ourselves which does not age. This glob of ourselves produces feisty young red blood cells which we infuse our senior citizen selves with on a regular basis.

        Hey Greg, how about giving us another list of books you recommend reading. I have grown bored with sci-fi books over the years, they are almost all completely implausible. A while back you did that and you pointed me to “The Anubis Gates” Wonderful book.

      • Ilya says:

        Not necessarily true for all tissues. For example, blood (as IC has mentioned above).

        Also, as long as tissue is healthy and HLA-matched, iPS from one donor can be used for implanting in another. Another example is neurons:

        Think along the lines of healing potential for Parkinson’s, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration.

  7. Dale says:

    The really interesting part is to figure out what controls the genetics of longevity. After all, humans aren’t the longest-lived vertebrates, so there must be a reason it’s suboptimal for a human to invest energy in building a longer-lived body. If an artificial treatment produces longer lives at low cost, presumably the genetic basis will evolve to produce even shorter-lived bodies.

    • melendwyr says:

      Evolution has made very few organisms that don’t seem to have built-in self-destructs. If you’re looking for benefits to the individual, you’re looking at the top of the iceberg only.

  8. Cloudswrest says:

    Personally I think it’s more than just “young blood”. I think it’s the organs and endocrine system in the younger organism responding to signals in the “older blood” and compensating accordingly.

  9. Toddy Cat says:

    There was a hilarious character in 1920’s Kansas named Dr. Brinkley who transplanted goat testicles into ageing men to improve sexual virility. When brought to trial in the late 1030’s, they had a Hell of a time convicting, because Brinkley had hundreds of customers willing to testify that he had given them a new lease on life. Such is the power of suggestion.

    Or maybe it worked. Wonder if Thiel is interested?

  10. JimBonobo says:

    We have finally found a use for all those unemployed Millennials! Give me two pints a month and I’ll make those student loans melt away.

  11. Matt says:

    On the topic of age and blood as a biomarker for age:
    “The UCLA team used several biomarkers, including an “epigenetic clock” developed by Horvath in 2013, to track an epigenetic shift linked to aging in the genome. Epigenetics is the study of changes to the DNA molecule that influence which genes are active but don’t alter the DNA sequence itself….

    According to Horvath, the UCLA research points to an epigenetic explanation for Latinos’ longer life spans. For example, the biological clock measured Latino women’s age as 2.4 years younger than non-Latino women of the same age after menopause.”

    I think this has been discussed here before, and possibly plausible reasons why.

    On the other hand, the question this posed to me here was that you do hear about the unusually high frequencies of Centenarians in some groups; Ashkenazi Jewish, Japanese, Sardinian.

    You don’t hear about that in Mexicans in Mexico- (comparisons between US subgroups are complicated by different migration / age structure, but Native American groups don’t seem overrepresented). Or Quechua in the high Andes. Seems like if there’s extra longevity, you should? Statistically, with populations of these sizes, I would think you should see some clear differences in that direction.

    Looking at actual results –

    “We analyzed blood, saliva, and brain samples from seven different racial/ethnic groups. We assessed the intrinsic epigenetic age acceleration of blood (independent of blood cell counts) and the extrinsic epigenetic aging rates of blood (dependent on blood cell counts and tracks the age of the immune system). In blood, Hispanics and Tsimane Amerindians have lower intrinsic but higher extrinsic epigenetic aging rates than Caucasians. African-Americans have lower extrinsic epigenetic aging rates than Caucasians and Hispanics but no differences were found for the intrinsic measure.”

    Naively read, suggests a hierarchy of aging of immune system follows the pattern African<Eurasian<Native American, while measures of other measures of aging via blood Native American<Eurasian=African. Echoing reduced disease pressures outside of Africa, further down the bottlenecks away from where Homo genus had been living, and so where Homo adapted pathogens were living, and perhaps some tradeoff between immune strength and other measures of fitness.

    Maybe you could have a situation where Native Americans are generally healthier at older ages, in terms of general cardiovascular, muscular-skeletal strength, etc., but after certain point, the probabilities increase faster that a minor infection will be “… and that’s all she wrote…” for them. While for Africans maybe the opposite? Could have some useful applications if so. Target more maintaining immune strength for Latinos, focus relatively more on general health for Africans. (That might link to the “mortality crossover” if immune effectiveness becomes relatively more important later in life.).

  12. RCB says:

    Speaking of longevity ideas from fiction, HP Lovecraft suggested cannibalism in The Picture in the House…

  13. IC says:


    Intellectual curiosity stuff: Malaria Might Help Some People Survive Ebola

    This finding will open up new way of thinking: Some antibiotics are poisons which would eliminate competition from their victims like lions killing off hyena. Malaria need the host to survive in order to be their long term host. Human farmers fight against crop raiding animals. Feudal lords fight each other to protect their subjectives ect.

    Hey this host (victim) is mine. Get off of my turf!

  14. whyteablog says:

    They’re working on artificial hearts and kidneys. Just keep replacing organs and even blood until the brain is the limiting factor- one day it could be possible. I dunno at that point. Telomerase?

  15. st says:

    So, that’s what you have been reffering to here:
    Not bad. Can’t wait for more.

  16. says:

    “””Patients who receive blood transfusions from young, female donors ‘are more likely to die'”””

    “””Dr Dean Fergusson, a senior scientists at The Ottawa Hospital, and professor at the University of Ottawa

    The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, evaluated the impact of blood donor sex and age, on recipient outcomes by linking 30,503 transfusion recipients at The Ottawa Hospital between October 2006 and December 2013, with their respective blood donors – 80,755 donors in total.

    for a recipient that received six units of red blood cells, this would translate into an associated risk of death of 36 per cent for recipients of all-female donor blood compared to 27 per cent for recipients of all-male donor blood one year later.

    Recipients of blood from donors aged 17- 20 were associated with an eight per cent increased risk of death per unit transfused compared with recipients of red blood cells from donors aged 40-50. “””

    • says:

      Association of Blood Donor Age and Sex With Recipient Survival After Red Blood Cell Transfusion

      Michaël Chassé, MD, PhD, FRCPC1; Alan Tinmouth, MD, MSc, FRCPC2,3; Shane W. English, MD, MSc, FRCPC2,3; Jason P. Acker, MBA, PhD4; Kumanan Wilson, MD, FRCPC4; Greg Knoll, MD, MSc, FRCPC2,3; Nadine Shehata, MD, MSc, FRCPC5; Carl van Walraven, MD, MSc, FRCPC2; Alan J. Forster, MD, MSc, FRCPC2,3; Timothy Ramsay, PhD2; Lauralyn A. McIntyre, MD, MSc, FRCPC2,3; Dean A. Fergusson, MHA, PhD2,3

  17. dearieme says:

    Found in my cuttings drawer:

    Kennedy was another amply medicated statesman: his doctor, Max Jacobson, was notorious for his “tissue regenerator” shots.

  18. burson says:

    in the 16th -17th century there was a countess in my country – at that time part of Hungarian Empire who was a big time believer in young blood. There were several movies made about her, one hollywood production at least.

  19. rob says:

    Do marrow transplants work to or does it have to be the final product?

  20. athEIst says:

    So I see the older organism is rejuvenated by the younger blood. But nowhere do I see the affect on the younger organism?

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