Three studies published this week show that transfusions of young blood could help old muscles and brains become as strong as young ones.
If the studies — which were performed on mice —are applicable to humans, some of the findings could be used to reverse aging and potentially cure Alzheimer’s.
All three studies involved giving older mice blood from younger ones. In two of the experiments, transfusions were shown to reverse declines in learning and memory. Young blood promoted the creation of new neurons and blood cells in old brains, improving the organs’ ability to change their structure during learning. The third paper found that a protein in young blood helped to improve old mice’s ability to exercise.
The “vampire therapy” was tested by observing mice as they performed learning and memory tests such as navigating a “water maze” and recalling which parts of a specific environment were wired with electric shocks.
Researchers say that the young mice used in their work were comparable to humans in their 20s, and the old mice, to humans in their 70s.
Scientist believe that young blood’s ability to rejuvenate different parts of the body may come from proteins in its make-up. In one of the studies conducted at Harvard University for example, researchers found that GDF11, dubbed the “youth protein,” helps to keep our brains and muscles strong. While it is found in the bloodstream when we are young, it diminishes as we age.
The Harvard researchers are hoping they will be able to begin human trials, testing for GDF11 within a few years. They are also looking to develop a pill or supplement for humans to take in the event that recipients are squeamish.
But Tony Wyss-Coray of Stanford, whose study appeared in Nature Medicine, hopes to begin human studies right away. Alkhahest, his start-up company, will launch their first clinical trial leater this year. Participants with Alzheimer’s will be given young human blood, and researchers will assess their cognitive capabilities before and after the transfusions.