The ‘vampire’ secret to living longer now steps out of a myth to become a reality with the discovery of Chinese scientists. But its potential effects on human society, especially in China, have raised serious concerns. What are they? Is there a different answer to the desire for youngness and longevity?
‘Vampire’ technique exposed
According to the South China Morning Post, a group of Chinese researchers has explored the ‘vampire’ secret, which involves injecting young blood into old mice to lengthen their life. Many scientists and entrepreneurs are interested in adopting this technique to “rejuvenate” aging humans.
The new study was published in May in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Stem Cell. It found that various organs and cell types in young mice could age faster while exposed to old blood; and that their adult stem cells and surrounding somatic cells may be “rejuvenated” by injecting young blood into old mice.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences authors also pointed out that among the cells most responsive to young blood are hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs), which give rise to other blood and immune cells.
“Most of the previous relevant studies have only demonstrated the [rejuvenation] phenomena and have not revealed enough about the essential mechanisms,” said Ma Shuai, lead author of the study.
“Our work constitutes a mineable resource for advancing our understanding of aging-related systemic factors and how they might be targeted to alleviate aging,” the study emphasized.
To identify the mechanisms enabling heterochronic parabiosis (that is, a technique in which a young mouse and an old mouse share a circulatory system) to contribute to aging and rejuvenation, the Chinese researchers isolated and compared over 164,000 single cells across seven organs over five years.
They found that rejuvenation effects in the old mice were produced by activating aged HSPCs rather than relocating young HSPCs into the bone marrow.
Although this new study was run on living mice, many scientists and entrepreneurs are interested in the possibility of applying the technique to humans. Ambrosia, a US-based start-up, once proposed pumping human plasma from young donors, 1.5 liters (50 fluid ounces) each time and across two days. However, the product was rejected by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2019 for being “not safe or effective.”
Ethical concerns and criminal risks
The South China Morning Post article generated strong concerns. Readers raised doubts about the moral risks of this “vampire technique.” An account named Paul W. commented: “The question is will some despicable rich and powerful people deploy any method within their powers to get blood from healthy and young people?”
This is unlikely to be a meaningless question. In recent years, various investigations have revealed the development of the black market for blood and the seriousness of human trafficking in China.
In 2014, seven people were arrested for being accused of a scheme that forced schoolchildren to give blood, reported BBC. According to Chinese police, at least eight children aged 10 to 16 had been beaten by a gang to force them “donate” blood to a company in Gansu province in northwest China. A blood center official among the arrested told police that he had been pressured to find more donors. It is disclosed that the schoolchildren were forced to donate on a monthly basis for seven months, and the blood amount taken was three times higher than the average amount for voluntary donors.
In 2015, Reuters further revealed that the increasing demand for healthcare in China exposed a chronic shortage of blood, which gave rise to the blood market. Periodic crackdowns on blood heads seemed to have had limited effect. “Don’t worry about the police. We’re outside most of the hospitals and we know all the police officers,” Zhang, a blood head in Beijing said. Nearby, there were two police cars parked.
Imagine if the above-mentioned “vampire technique” was applied to humans to satisfy the desire for youth. What would be its consequences on the already-high demand for blood and the crimes related to the black market in China?
Recently, Chinese dissident Yao Cheng disclosed that, according to statistics compiled by Chinese non-profits, including WRIC (Women’s Rights in China), it is estimated that 70,000 children are abducted every year, not considering those who were abandoned.
The missing children were purchased as child brides—to be married to a family member when the child reaches an appropriate age—or as prostitutes and organ donors.
Yao recalled witnessing in Santow, Guangdong, beds for boys and girls who had been sent to Southeast Asia for organ harvesting. Regardless of all the evidence he had collected, the police refused to investigate or take action to crack down on the crimes, Yao said.
He concluded that the Chinese police are good at catching state enemies, but not the traffickers, because many police are involved in the operations, which form a super lucrative industrial chain. He also believes that CCP’s high-level officials backed many schemes since some of them have themselves required an organ transplant. “Why can many of those senior Party cadres, supposedly frail after being through the wars and all the hardships in early life, live into their 90s and 100s?” Yao said. “Look at Jiang Zemin, he’s nearly 100 years old. There’s also a high demand for organs in the Chinese market,” he stressed.
Yao’s accusations are not groundless. The United States House of Representatives in 2016 passed H.Res.343, an item of legislation that expresses concern on “persistent and credible reports of systematic, state-sanctioned organ harvesting from nonconsenting prisoners of conscience in the People’s Republic of China.”
As such a hard-to-believe crime exists in communist China, it is difficult to assure that innocent children and young prisoners of conscience will not be persecuted for their blood once the “vampire technique” is practiced on humans.
Is there a different and more humane approach?
For millennia, longevity and youngness have always been a wish of humankind. East and West, ancient wisdom and modern science provide various approaches to address this issue. It is evident that without the morally risky “vampire technique,” there are still more righteous methods to achieve youthfulness and longevity.
A scientific study led by Hoge from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School on loving-kindness meditation has found that people who generate love and benevolence toward others regularly have significantly longer telomeres, thus reducing cellular aging and longer life. This finding is in line with previous research, which indicates a relationship between altruistic behaviors, such as volunteering and caregiving, and overall health and longevity. Notably, a study by Sara Konrath at the University of Michigan showed that volunteerism only extended lifespan when done for sincerely selfless reasons.
These results support the law of karma and retribution that has been taught in Chinese traditional culture. All Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism believed that good will be rewarded and evil punished; the belief was then destroyed by the atheism and struggle theory of communism.
Ancient China was once well known for miraculous methods of longevity, transmitted generation by generation in cultivation schools. According to historical records, Zhang Sanfeng, the founder of Tai Chi Chuan, was considered to have lived over two centuries. Three emperors of the Ming Dynasty proclaimed him a “true person,” an enlightened person of the Taoist school.
When Emperor Yongle (personal name: Zhu Di), the son of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor, ascended to the throne, he repeatedly sent emissaries to find Zhang. Zhang Sanfeng eventually answered Zhu Di’s letter with a poem. He knew exactly why the emperor looked for him, not for wealth or fame, which he already had, but for longevity.
In his poem, Zhang Sanfeng revealed the secret to longevity to Emperor Yongle: calm his mind and let go of his worldly desires.
Tai Chi Chuan was initially a combined practice for mind and body, which enabled practitioners to sustain youngness, achieve longevity and ascend to higher realms. Unfortunately, today its mind cultivation secrets have been lost.
In the world today, another Qigong practice gaining international popularity for its health and spiritual benefits is Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa. The practitioners of Falun Gong use three principles of Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance to guide their minds and daily activities, supported by a series of five gentle exercises, including a sitting meditation. Several medical studies have found that practicing Falun Gong could enhance the immune system, improve disease symptoms and prolong lifespan.
To conclude, let us recall what Albert Einstein has said: “The valuation of life and all its nobler expressions can only come out of the soul’s yearning toward its own destiny. Every attempt to reduce ethics to scientific formulas must fail. Of that I am perfectly convinced.”