Tag Archives: Heart disease

Why I Started Giving Blood

Last March, as COVID began to whallop the New York area, I sat on my couch refreshing the news over and over and getting increasingly paranoid. I’d check the case counts before I went to bed and then again as soon as I got up. I soon realized this was not a sustainable way to live.

Then I saw an article in our local news that blood donations were particularly needed. Donations had dropped off because donors were afraid to go, but the needs remained. I sensed an opportunity to finally do something, as opposed to simply read more news and become more scared, which benefits no one.

So I went to the New York Blood Center on East 67th street in Manhattan. The staff were very nice and the entire process took just a few minutes. Since then, I’ve gone every couple of months, enjoying the opportunity to do something positive and also the delicious snacks I get afterward. 🙂 Since donor volume was thin around the holidays, I even got a pair of special New York Blood Center socks when I donated shortly before Christmas!

We all know giving blood helps others, but it may surprise you to learn that there can be significant health benefits for donors as well. Regular blood donation is linked to lower blood pressure and risk of heart attacks. Men seem to benefit more than women, since women have a natural way to get rid of blood through menstruation, but men do not.

You also get a mini-checkup every time you donate. When you come in, they check your heart rate, blood pressure, and iron levels. It’s not much, but how many people get any sort of checkup every 8 weeks? Not many. I suspect this may be another reason donors tend to enjoy better health. Your blood is also screened for infectious diseases like HIV and the center will contact you if you test positive. I even found out I have a rare blood type, B-, which is particularly needed.

Do you feel sick after? Not really, or at least I never do. The first time, I felt just a bit lightheaded, but then I drank a lot of water and immediately felt fine. My number one tip for feeling good after blood donation is to drink a lot of water. I generally consumed 1-2 liters.

The last time I donated, I looked at the posters on the wall. There was a young Asian lady who had had dozens of transfusions after a car accident. Another poster showed a Marine veteran who needed transfusions during a surgery. I never served in the military, but it was satisfying to be able to serve in this way.

The COVID risk seems minimal to me given that everyone is masked and temperature-checked, which is more than I can say for the grocery store! I’d encourage everyone to consider donating. It could make you healthier and save someone else’s life too!

How We Can Rewrite Our Genetic Blueprint

We may soon be able to edit our own genes using a new technology called CRISPR. It uses a bacteria to change data in the genetic code and could one day cure rare genetic diseases. There is also potential in editing genes to prevent cancer and heart disease.

In the new excellent book Editing Humanity by Kevin Davies, we learn how the technology was developed and how it has been applied and misapplied. CRISPR has cured a patient of sickle cell disease already, but was also used inappropriately to sloppily modify the genes of several babies in China. It’s tool with enormous potential, but that includes potential for abuse.

I am intrigued to see if this tool could one day be used to reverse the DNA errors that come with aging.

As an investor, it struck me that Beam Therapeutics, a company founded by David Liu and Feng Zhang, two of the best scientists in the field, went public at a valuation of only $180 million. If CRISPR doesn’t revolutionize health, perhaps it’s worth zero. But what if it succeeds? It could be the most valuable company in history. Indeed, since this book came out in mid-2020, I see the share price has increased nearly fivefold.

I also think we would benefit greatly from increasing our investment as a society in basic research. I was surprised to learn that the Howard Hughes Medical Institute supports the lab of one of the co-inventors of CRISPR, Jennifer Doudna, at a rate of $1 million per year. While HHMI’s work is outstanding and to be commended, I imagine Doudna could use a lot more than that. What would she do with $10 or $100 million a year? Our government and we as individuals (through crowdfunding) could get it to her and other leading scientists. The benefits we could reap can only be imagined.

Davies’ book is entertaining, readable, and informative throughout. I’d highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in CRISPR, gene editing, or health in general!