When former mortician Bill Faloon co-founded the Church of Perpetual Life in Florida five years ago, it wasn’t to bring people together to worship immortality — it was to achieve it. “I never accepted death as being inevitable,” Faloon told his congregation in 2015. “Technology will advance to the point where death is rather optional.”
This February, he introduced what he seems to consider the most promising immortality option thus far: infusing older people with the blood of young, healthy millennials. While the idea that immortality can be achieved through transfusions of young people’s blood is still scientifically unfounded, that didn’t dissuade roughly 120 wealthy baby boomers from attending a luxury lunch on the topic last month.
Rebecca Robbins, a reporter from medical news site STAT, attended the $195 luncheon at a “wealthy beachside enclave” in Florida, where guests listened to Faloon’s theory.
Faloon’s zealous quest for longevity is evidently alluring to an older population, some of whom flew in from as far as Spain to hear about the next big thing in the world of aging. “Not only do you get to potentially live longer … but you’re going to be healthier,” Faloon continued. “And some of the chronic problems you have now may disappear.”
Faloon is not the creator of this theory, he’s just the face of it. The doctor touting the benefits of blood transfusions — and the one who says he’s launching a study on it — is Dipnarine Maharaj. A hematologist based in Florida, Dr. Maharaj is founder and medical director of the Maharaj Institute, where he performs outpatient bone-marrow and stem-cell transplants.
His clinic and his philosophy revolve around what’s called “immune regenerative medicine” a procedure defined on his website as “the process of replacing or ‘regenerating’ human cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function.” The idea of transfusing young blood into a body suffering the effects of aging falls into this category, making Maharaj an obvious choice to take up the crusade.
Robbins, the STAT reporter who attend the conference, said Maharaj — who said flatly that he’d found the secret to extending life — was the star of the luncheon. “We’re saying that we will defy aging,” the hematologist reportedly told the attendees. “We believe that this could benefit everyone who is here.”
The ultimate goal of the luncheon, was to recruit individuals to participate in what Maharaj claims is a soon-to-be launching study that’s allegedly approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In handouts Robbins obtained from the conference, Maharaj outlines exactly what the study requires.
Participants must be between the ages of 55 and 95 and have a “clinical frailty score between 4-7” (meaning they are experiencing things like weight loss, slow walking speed, and decreased physical activity). The 30 individuals who qualify will not only have to submit to monthly blood transfusions, but also pay $285,000 just to enroll — a result of Maharaj’s inability, he told them, to secure funding.
To qualify as a donor, individuals have to be between 18 and 35 and weigh more than 150 pounds. Those who sign on as donors will be paid $750, but have to agree to be injected with Granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF), a medicine that’s often administered after chemotherapy to help patients recover (or before someone donates stem cells). It basically bolsters the immune system by stimulating the bone marrow to make more white blood cells.
Maharaj’s thinking is that this will increase the chances of leading to regeneration in the people who receive the transfusions. It’s a concept that has been percolating in both the science world and the media for several years, most recently in a Washington Post piece titled “Giving young blood to older animals raises tantalizing possibilities for people.”
In it, the author details a 2014 paper from researchers at Harvard University, one in which scientists sewed together 2-month-old mice together and 15-month-old mice (joining their circulatory systems) to see if the younger blood would have an impact on the older mice. It did, but not a life-extending one. What scientists found was improved memory and learning in the older mice, suggesting that the new blood helped their brains form new neurons. The idea that young blood can offer “rejuvenation” is enticing, for obvious reasons, but it’s a theory that remains untested in humans.
When STAT spoke with one of the researchers who has studied the topic in mice, she rejected the notion that her work provides a “scientific basis” for the clinical trial. Other researchers expressed the same, saying it was a significant leap to tell people that the same effect would occur in humans.
The FDA website currently shows no pending studies which match Maharaj’s description. A spokeswoman for the FDA Lauren Dyer Smith tells Yahoo Lifestyle that a clinician who wants to test an unapproved product in humans must first submit it to the FDA, but that the FDA “cannot confirm the existence of or comment on an current or pending product applications.” In other words, she’s unable to confirm it. When asked to do the same by Yahoo Lifestyle, neither Faloon nor Maharaj could be reached.
In the interim, it’s STAT’s on-the-ground reporting that stands alone — a report that leaves little doubt where the medical community stands on the issue. “It just reeks of snake oil,” Michael Conboy, an assistant researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, told Robbins. “There’s no evidence in my mind that it’s going to work.”
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