It may sound a bit grisly at a glance, but the possibility of fighting aging through young blood has become a hotly debated area of research. Before you go out attempting to find yourself a vial of youth blood, let’s have a look at the research.
The idea that blood could have anti-aging properties began in the early 2000s when a group of scientists at Stanford University revived a procedure called parabiosis. In this rather macabre experiment, researchers stitched two living mice together effectively causing them to share the same blood circulatory system. Each pair contained an old mouse and a young one. They found that the brains, livers, and muscles of old mice were rejuvenated  within a month of joining to a younger mouse.
These findings brought a great deal of excitement to scientists and entrepreneurs alike who saw the potential for using young blood as a means to battle the many signs of aging. Clinics began to pop up around America that offered infusions of young blood to people who could afford it.
In February 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration announced potential safety issues and a lack of evidence to prove any clinical efficacy from the infusions. This resulted in clinics closing down and scaling back, but it did not slow down the research exploring whether young blood is actually an elixir of youth.
Blood and Aging
The exact mechanisms of aging are not well understood, but what we do know is that things change. Whether it’s those new crow’s feet or throwing out your back from sleeping the wrong way, aging is a reality we don’t get to ignore. When we are young, our blood contains more regenerative factors than aging factors. Young blood is rich in growth factors and muscle-rejuvenating hormones  like oxytocin. As we get older the ratios change and our blood begins to contain more aging factors. Proteins such as eotaxin  that play a role in inflammation and age-related disease become more prevalent.
The influence of blood on aging is interesting given that it reaches every organ in the body. It influences everything from the way we move to the way we think.
One of the most interesting ways that young blood could potentially treat age-related decline is through neurogenesis. Neurogenesis refers to the growth of new neurons in the brain and it is influenced by numerous factors, including aging. Research by neuroscientist Saul A. Villeda at the University of California found that older mice who had reversed signs of aging after being stitched to a young companion had an increase of a certain enzyme in their brain called Tet2 . They found that this increase was located in a key area of the brain for learning and memory called the hippocampus. Under normal conditions, levels of Tet2 decrease with age, resulting in decreased neuronal growth. Therefore, it seemed that exposure to young blood had effectively elevated this enzyme in the hippocampus of older mice resulting in increased neurogenesis.
In a little additional experiment, they tried blocking Tet2 activity in the hippocampi of young mice and found that neuron growth decreased and the animals did worse on tests of memory and learning.
Other research  has found multiple other factors in young blood that may boost neurogenesis and improve communication in the brain. One group even found that directly injecting old mice with a protein called GDF11 caused blood vessel and neuronal growth  in the mice. While these findings may not do much for your crow’s feet, they imply that some elements of young blood show promise for restoring cognitive function to more youthful levels. Well, in mice anyway
In order to determine whether the benefits from young blood in mice stitched together was purely from the blood and not also from the organs, a team of researchers developed a technique where the mice were joined but in a way that only exchanged blood. They found that when young mice had equal parts old and young blood- they began to age . The old blood drastically decreased liver function, learning, neurogenesis, and agility. As for the old mice in this experiment? No change.
The lack of effect on old mice and the deterioration of young mice with old blood means that simply adding young blood may not be enough to stop aging. Instead, the focus should actually be on blocking aging factors in the blood. It’s now a matter of isolating these factors and determining how to block them.
Human Studies on Young Blood
There is limited research available using young blood in humans. One study done by Tony Wyss-Coray  and his team at Stanford University examined whether young blood could be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s. They injected young human blood plasma into elderly humans with Alzheimer’s and found that the initial results were positive. Participants receiving injections of young blood had improvements in mental skills, the ability to do daily activities, and had more awareness of their surroundings.
Wyss-Coray founded the firm Alkahest, a biotech group dedicated to researching the benefits of young blood in humans. In another study, Alkahest tried blocking eotaxin, the blood protein associated with inflammation and aging. In their work, they were able to block eotaxin from binding to receptors involved with abnormal blood vessel growth in patients with age-related macular degeneration. Preliminary research has shown that this treatment improved visual acuity  in participants.
Critics complain that the results from the available research lack a placebo arm and may receive biased results from caregivers filling out questionnaires. Everyone agrees that more work needs to be done. Wyss-Coray and his team have already begun trials using a placebo arm and better assessments of participants.
So, About That Blood
It’s definitely too early in the game to assume that any type of blood therapy is effective for combating age-related decline. Any preliminary results are merely starting points to continue more research. What we do know is that there may be effective strategies available in the future to target blood factors that cause aging and this may or may not include the use of young blood.
How Can I Get Young Blood
If you feel like spending $10,000 on a treatment that doesn’t have much science to back it, you can try out an infusion of young blood plasma at a clinic called Ambrosia in San Franciso. They operate in a legal grey area where they use plasma, which is an approved drug, for off-label use. Jesse Karmazin, the owner of Ambrosia says he plans to publish results comparing biomarkers of his clients before and after their plasma infusions. He is first focusing on getting the company back on its feet after shutting down operations due to the FDA’s warning on using young blood.
Otherwise, your best bet is to hang back for a while and wait for science to do its thing. Many labs see the potential for treatment using young blood and are continuing to explore ways it can be applied to treating age-related decline in humans.
Plenty of funding has been funneled into anti-aging research. The potential of young blood as a therapy may be best used for the treatment of age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s. It remains to be seen if young blood plasma will ever be suitable as a catch-all anti-aging answer. In the meantime, you can focus on scientifically proven ways to increase your lifespan and let the youths keep their blood. For now.
- Rejuvenation of aged progenitor cells by exposure to a young systemic environment. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature03260
- Oxytocin is an age-specific circulating hormone that is necessary for muscle maintenance and regeneration. https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms5082
- Eotaxin, an Endogenous Cognitive Deteriorating Chemokine (ECDC), Is a Major Contributor to Cognitive Decline in Normal People and to Executive, Memory, and Sustained Attention Deficits, Formal Thought Disorders, and Psychopathology in Schizophrenia Patients. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30056534/
- Tet2 Rescues Age-Related Regenerative Decline and Enhances Cognitive Function in the Adult Mouse Brain. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29466726/
- Specific factors in blood from young but not old mice directly promote synapse formation and NMDA-receptor recruitment. https://www.pnas.org/content/116/25/12524
- Vascular and Neurogenic Rejuvenation of the Aging Mouse Brain by Young Systemic Factors. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/344/6184/630
- A single heterochronic blood exchange reveals rapid inhibition of multiple tissues by old blood. https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms13363
- Tony Wyss-Coray, PhD. https://profiles.stanford.edu/tony-wyss-coray
- Alkahest, Inc. https://www.alkahest.com/alkahest-presents-positive-results-from-phase-2a-open-label-study-of-akst4290-in-treatment-naive-neovascular-amd-at-retina-world-congress/
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