It’s a bit like a sci-fi – there are no vampires seeking blood, only aging adults looking for the blood of younger adults. While it might not be something you get to enjoy, but what if in the future your children could stop the aging process by simply having a blood transfusion from someone younger. Perhaps, with a little luck, the science will catch up, and you will actually get to experience this phenomenon in your life time…
Today, when you want to look younger, you head to the plastic surgeon and have a nip and tuck, here and there. In the future, you might show at a blood bank, have an infusion of the blood of someone much younger, and begin to enjoy the benefits of seeing the signs of aging stop – even reverse.
According to two studies that were done recently, by two separate scientists and their teams, when blood from a younger member of a species is transfused into an older member of the same species, it could rejuvenate the brain and muscles, and reverse the signs of aging.
These studies weren’t on humans, but with a little imagination, one could fast forward a decade or so and see these same types of studies involving humans. What if you could show up at blood bank, not to give blood, but rather to get blood, so that you could turn back the years and reverse aging?
This type of research isn’t new. Back in the 1950’s similar research was going ton. Dr. McCay and his colleagues from Cornell University, did similar research on rats. They gave old rats the blood from young rats to see if it might reverse the signs of aging. The way did this was rather unique. The skin of the old rat and young rat were stitched together at the flank. Then they carried out parabiosis, where blood vessels grow together creating one circulatory system for the two rats. The young rat’s blood ran through the old rat and the old rat’s blood ran through the young rat.
Dr. McCay then carried out a necropsy after the rats were dead. The cartilage of the old rat had become more youthful, but the scientists weren’t able to completely understand why the rejuvenation occurred so no definitive conclusion was made between the how the younger rat’s blood changed the older rat.
At a later date, scientists learned that stem cells are needed for the tissue to remain vital and when there is damaged tissues stem cells arrive on the scene and start to produce new cells to replace the cells that are dying. However, as we age our stem cells weaken.
A study done on blood transfusions and reversing aging was done in 2000. It was then that the scientists learned that as we age our stem cells don’t actually die. Professor Rando from Stanford University of Medicine, said, “There were plenty of stem cells there. They just don’t get the right signals.”
Professor Rando and his team wanted to know what would result if they bathed these old signals with younger blood, so they revisited the studies by Dr. McCay. Scientists joined together young mice and old mice for a 5 week period. Then they examined the old mice. There results were the same as a later study found in 2005.
The old mice grew new liver cells at the same rate that younger mice grew these cells and the muscles of the old mice quickly healed. The young mice aged prematurely, their muscles healed slower and their stem cells produced new cells slowly.
Their experiment found that young mice blood contained a compound that could wake up old stem cells and rejuvenate aging tissue, while that the old mice contained a compound that sped up the aging process in the younger mice.
Dr. Wagers, who was a member of Dr. Rando’s original team, moved to Harvard in 2004. She continued to study the blood of young mice. Recently she and her team showed that the blood of young mice was able to rejuvenate the hearts of old mice.
Dr. Wager and her colleagues were focused on the identification of the molecule responsible for this change. They screened the blood of the animals, and found the protein GDF11 was copious in younger mice and nearly completely missing in older mice. They wanted to find out if GDF11 was needed for parabiosis. To do this they produced this protein and injected it into the older mice. What they found was that the hearts of the older mice were rejuvenated.
The team found GDF11 caused the rejuvenation of other tissue. The journal of Science reported an experiment on skeletal muscle and what they found was that stem cells in old muscles were revived by GDF11 so the older mice became stronger and their endurance increased.
At Stanford the researchers investigated whether the blood from young mice altered the brains of old mice. Villeda and his colleagues discovered that it did and they also discovered that when old mice were given young blood they had a sudden burst of new neurons in their hippocampus, which is where memories are formed in the brain.
This team of scientists went beyond parabiosis and they actually removed the young mice’s platelets and cells from the blood and injected the plasma into the old mice. They found these old mice then performed far better on their memory tests.
Another study reported that parabiosis encouraged the growth of blood vessels in the mouse’s brain. They found the new blood supply caused the growth of new neurons and an increase in smell in the older mice.
After the link between the GDF11 protein and skeletal muscle and heart rejuvenation was established, Dr. Wagers studied whether the protein was also responsible for the brain changes. They injected GDF11 it spurred the growth of blood vessels and neurons in the brain, although the change was not as large as that from parabiosis.
The director of the Neuroinflammation Research Center at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Ransohoff, says, “There’s no conflict between the two groups, which is heartening.”
Dr. Ransohoff among many other researchers are hopeful the mice experiments will lead to studies on people to see if the human GDF11 version, or other molecules in the blood of young people, will have a similar effect on older adults.
“We can turn back the clock instead of slowing the clock down. That’s a nice thought if it pans out,” said Dr. Finkle, who is the director of the Center for Molecular Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
New research indicates that this reversal could occur throughout the body. According to Dr Wagers, “Instead of taking a drug for your heart and a drug for your muscles and a drug for your brain, maybe you could come up with something that affected them all.”
Scientists would have to be careful if they were going to rejuvenate old body parts. They recognize that if they were to awaken stem cells there is the risk that they would uncontrollably multiply. This could cause an increase in cancer.
One study involved two teams of scientists who transfused blood from young mice into old mice. Their research discovered that the signs of aging were reversed. While you might be wondering why we would need to do this, and whether we are that vain, one must consider that this might be able to help in the treatment of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease.
Professor Rudolph Tanzi, Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, points out that this kind of research could be a ‘game changer,’ and he comments on just how excited he is that this type of research is going on.
Imagine, arriving at a blood bank that was the equivalent of what we would see as a ‘gas station,’ and looking for a blood refueling to give you the energy and stamina you once had as a younger person, while you enjoy all the other benefits of reversed aging.
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