Brain and Body

Young Blood’s Potential to Regenerate Old Brains

September 22, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

An infant hand, an adult hand, an elderly hand

A series of experiments has demonstrated the exciting prospects of using young blood to regenerate the brains and bodies of the elderly.

As absurd (and vampiric) as it sounds to use young blood to renew a frail body, researchers at Stanford University’s School of Medicine found strong regenerative properties in young blood.

Joseph Castellano of Stanford’s neurology and neurological sciences department says the regenerative capability in young blood has implications for the aging liver, muscle, brain, and other organs, which was supported in research performed on mice.

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In lab experiments, researchers connected the blood vessels of young and old mice so they shared a blood supply. The scientists observed that, following an injury, older mice saw greater improvements in muscle and bone repair compared to the mice who didn’t have access to younger blood. Later experiments determined that older mice even saw an increase in the number of new brain cells in the part of the brain linked with memory when exposed to younger blood.

A 2014 study found that injecting blood plasma from younger mice improved the learning and memory of older mice. As exciting as these results may be, the tests have only been done on mice so far. But Tony Wyss-Coray, a professor of neurology at Stanford, launched the first human trial of young blood in October 2014. His research involves weekly blood transfusions from young people to older people with Alzheimer’s disease. The results from Wyss-Coray’s experiments are expected at the end of the year.

However, there are limitations in his experiment. The lab mice used in the experiments were genetically modified to develop Alzheimer’s. This means that they mimic the forms of disease that run in families due to specific mutations, but can’t help scientists learn about the origins of sporadic forms of Alzheimer’s, which account for 99 percent of human cases.

While the potential of using young blood for anti-aging purposes is exciting, the results in mice experiments might not translate to humans. Even if they did, it’s possible that young blood could help generate new neurons in older brains, but could still have no actual effect on a person’s thinking ability.

Dr. Marc L. Gordon, chief of neurology at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Queens, New York, told Live Science that there is also a concern that certain factors carried in young blood that promote cell growth could lead to cancer. It will be essential to test the safety of the treatment and weigh all possible outcomes before jumping on the exciting possibilities.

Nonetheless, the findings could have huge implications for treating age-related diseases in the future. The study’s lead author, Saul Villeda, is optimistic about the regenerative potential in young blood. “We’ve shown that at least some age-related impairments in brain function are reversible,” he says. “They’re not final.”

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