Experiments show that blood plasma from the young reverse age-associated cognitive declines. What ingredient make it possible?
It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, or the mind of a researcher gone off the rails. But a series of intriguing discoveries hint that young blood may help treat problems associated with the elderly.
Several studies in the last 15 years have shown that, when the circulatory system of young mice is joined to that of old mice, the old mice’s muscle stem cells are revitalized, and the health of the brain, heart, liver, and spinal cord is improved. And administering young blood plasma into aged mice gives a boost to cognitive function. Now, a clinical trial has begun in which patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease are given blood plasma donated by people under 30. Clinicians will measure cognitive function before and after the transfusion, and the patients’ family members or caretakers will report any changes they notice.
Provided that the beneficial effects of young blood hold up, it will be important to pin down the reasons. There would not be enough blood plasma to go around to meet the needs of millions of patients, so scientists will have to identify which components of the blood are responsible, and then develop a drug that does much the same thing.
Understanding the mechanism has lagged behind the empirical results. Suspicions had fallen on GDF11, a protein that decreases in mouse blood as the rodents age. Injections of GDF11 into older mice resulted in more robust hearts, fresh blood vessels and neurons in the brain, and improved physical endurance and cognition. Yet, as it often goes in science, other experiments cast doubt on the role of GDF11. GDF11 was found to actually increase with age, and another test of the protein revealed that injecting it worsened muscle damage.
The answers await further research, but it seems this is one field that isn't getting old anytime soon. Although we at HemaCare can't promise the fountain of youth, we can promise IRB consented blood plasma from healthy human volunteers for your research and clinical needs.