December 5, 2021

A Blood Test Offers Clues to Longevity

Blood tests that seek to tell people their biological age — possibly offering a clue to their longevity or how healthy they will remain — are now going on sale.

But contrary to various recent media reports, the tests cannot specify how many months or years someone can expect to live. Some experts say the tests will not provide any useful information.

The tests measure telomeres, which are structures on the tips of chromosomes that shorten as people age. Various studies have shown that people with shorter telomeres in their white blood cells are more likely to develop illnesses like cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease, or even to die earlier. Studies in mice have suggested that extending telomeres lengthens lives.

Seizing on that, laboratories are beginning to offer tests of telomere length, setting off a new debate over what genetic tests should be offered to the public and what would be the ethical implications if the results were used by employers or others.

Some of the laboratories offering the tests emphasize that the results are merely intended to raise a warning flag.

“We see it as a kind of wake-up call for the patient and the clinician to say, ‘You know, you’re on a rapidly aging path,’ ” said Otto Schaefer, vice president for sales and marketing at SpectraCell Laboratories in Houston, which offers a test for $290.

A company in Spain, provocatively named Life Length, has begun selling a test for 500 euros ($712), that says that it can tell people their biological age, which may not correspond to their chronologic age.

Another company, Telome Health of Menlo Park, Calif., plans to begin offering a test later this year for about $200. It was co-founded by Elizabeth H. Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, who shared a Nobel Prize in 2009 for discoveries related to telomeres.

Calvin B. Harley, the chief scientific officer at Telome Health, said the test would be akin to a car’s dashboard signal, a “check engine light.” He compared it with a cholesterol test, but more versatile since it can predict a risk of various illnesses, not just heart attacks.

But among the critics of such tests is Carol Greider, a molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins University, who was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize with Dr. Blackburn.

Dr. Greider acknowledged that solid evidence showed that the 1 percent of people with the shortest telomeres were at an increased risk of certain diseases, particularly bone marrow failure and pulmonary fibrosis, a fatal scarring of the lungs. But outside of that 1 percent, she said, “The science really isn’t there to tell us what the consequences are of your telomere length.”

Dr. Greider said that there was great variability in telomere length. “A given telomere length can be from a 20-year-old or a 70-year-old,” she said. “You could send me a DNA sample and I couldn’t tell you how old that person is.”

Peter Lansdorp, a telomere expert at the British Columbia Cancer Agency, also had doubts. “If telomeres are short for you or me, what does it mean?” he said. Dr. Lansdorp started a company, Repeat Diagnostics, which conducts telomere testing for medical researchers only.

Recent media reports speculated on the tests and their possible implications, including ethical problems.

“You could imagine insurance companies wanting this knowledge to set rates or deny coverage,” said Dr. Jerry W. Shay, a professor of cell biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who is an adviser to Life Length.

Test vendors say the speculation is running wild.

“It doesn’t mean we will tell anyone how long they will live,” said María Blasco, a co-founder of Life Length and a molecular biologist at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center in Madrid. Even if a 50-year-old has the telomere length more typical of a 70-year-old, she said, “This doesn’t mean your whole body is like a 70-year-old person’s body.”

Still, she said, “We think it can be helpful to people who are especially keen on knowing how healthy they are.”

Generally tests offered by a single laboratory do not have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But the F.D.A. has been cracking down recently on some tests offered to the public, saying they may need approval. The FDA said in a statement Wednesday that it was aware of the tests, and had not come to any conclusions.

Executives at both Telome Health and Life Length say they will require a doctor to be involved in ordering the test, though SpectraCell said it allowed individuals to order the test.

Article source:

You’re the Boss: Is Now the Time to Give Away the Business?


In my last post, I discussed whether it might be a good idea to sell your business before (or after) 2013 — a complex decision that is looking even murkier. What seems crystal clear, on the other hand, is that now is a fantastic time to give shares of a business to family members.

At the end of 2010, Congress increased the lifetime gift tax exemption to $5 million, from $1 million, for individuals and to $10 million, from $2 million, for married couples. These changes, however, are set to expire in 2013, creating a two-year window of opportunity for business owners to keep more of the family business in the family and less of the business from going to Uncle Sam in the form of federal estate and gift taxes. “We are in the prime transfer tax situation,” said Rebecca Hurst, a tax and estate planning lawyer with Friday, Eldredge Clark in Fayetteville, Ark.

But before you rush out and start bequeathing stock to your progeny, it’s worth noting that not everyone in the business community gets warm and fuzzy when it comes to passing shares of a business to subsequent generations. While it may seem like both a loving gesture and a way to ensure the longevity of the enterprise, gifting can be the worst possible option for both the business and the family that owns it.

“How many times do I have to watch this bad movie?” asked Tom Deans, author of “Every Family’s Business” and a critic of what he calls “the longevity myth” that surrounds family-owned businesses. Mr. Deans says that giving away a business is both dangerous and corrosive. In fact, he says, no family business should be given away. He estimates that roughly 30 percent of family businesses make it from the first to the second generation, while only about 3 percent make it to the third. “Family businesses,” he said, “are not built to last.”

Having worked with a number of family-business owners over the years, I wondered how Mr. Deans’s message was received on the speakers circuit, where he currently spends most of his time. “Ten percent of them won’t hear it,” he said. “They believe they are different or special, that they can beat the street.” He added that advisers to business owners frequently assume that the business is not for sale and consider the topic taboo. “It’s a no-fly zone,” he said.

In the case of Mr. Deans’s family — with a history of business ownership going back four generations — the opposite was true. “When I joined the family business,” he said, “my father gave me the same choice that his father gave him. I could either raise the capital to buy the company from him, or I could help him sell the business to an outside buyer, for which I would be well paid.” Being given the business was never an option.

The family has an impressive track record. Mr. Deans’s paternal grandfather started a chemical company in the 1950s that he sold in 1997 for $118 million. Mr. Deans’s father started a plastic sheet manufacturing company in 1973. After almost a decade as president and chief executive, Mr. Deans helped his father sell the company in 2007 to a billion-dollar European competitor. While he can’t divulge the final sales price, he said that it was an all-cash deal for a multiple of 10 times earnings.

“It’s not about denying the next generation anything,” Mr. Deans said. Rather it’s about preserving what he considers to be the family’s true legacy — not the business itself but the two most precious things that the business creates: substantial personal wealth and the values required to nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs.

“The family, the idea at the center of all that is good, is an institution that consistently and predictably pulls itself apart in its attempt to perpetuate its business,” Mr. Deans wrote in a recent blog post. “Building great families is often at odds with building great businesses. Family and business work in equal but opposite directions, with family thriving on fairness, and business thriving on decisive control and leadership.”

Regarding the latter, Mr. Deans suggests that leadership of the family business should be determined by the child or children who express an appetite for risk and hard work, as well as a clear understanding that the family business is something that will require change and innovation. “Those are qualities that are hard to find in most traditional family businesses that end up being gifted,” said Mr. Deans. “It has always been hard to change a gift — and even more difficult to sell one.”

Barbara Taylor is co-owner of a business brokerage, Synergy Business Services, in Bentonville, Ark. Here is her guide to selling a business.

Article source: