IT SOUNDS like the dark plot of a vampire movie – Young blood rejuvenates our cells. In October 2014, people with Alzheimer’s disease started to be injected with the blood of young people in the hope that it will reverse some of the damage caused by that condition. But holds promise for individuals suffering for a wide range issues that have impacted their body and effected the quality of their life style. Just imagine the implications of reversing Traumatic Brain Injuries, Parkinson’s, MS, ALS, Repairing Damaged Organs, Surgical Healing, Aging of Skin, Muscle and Vascular Development.
In the first human trial of the effects of young blood, at Stanford University, infusions of blood plasma from young people are being given to older people. The preliminary results have surprised the research team, since it appears that young blood rejuvenates all of the cells within the recipients’ bodies are showing marked improvement.
The scientists behind the experiment have evidence on their side that young blood rejuvenates. Work in animals has shown that a transfusion of young mouse blood can improve cognition and the health of several organs in older mice. It could even make those animals look younger. The ramifications for the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries could be huge, if the same thing happens in people.
The study was published in Nature Medicine in 2014. Immediately, emails flooded in to Wyss-Coray’s inbox. Alzheimer’s patients wanted infusions of young blood. So did numerous aged billionaires interested in the potential that young blood rejuvenates. One, who flies around in a jet with his name emblazoned on the side, invited Wyss-Coray to an Oscars after-party this year. (He didn’t go.) Another correspondent wrote with a more disturbing offer: he said he could provide blood from children of whatever age the scientists required. Wyss-Coray was appalled. “That was creepy,” he said.
But it wasn’t until spring 2012 that plans to form a company emerged. Nikolich, an entrepreneur and neuroscientist at Stanford, had flown to Hong Kong to visit the family of Chen Din-hwa, a Chinese billionaire known as the King of Cotton Yarn. Three years earlier, Chen had died, aged 89, with Alzheimer’s disease. His grandson told Nikolich that towards the end of his life, Chen barely recognised his own family. Then he had a plasma transfusion for an unrelated condition, which seemed to have a spectacular effect. His mind was clearer and he was suddenly cogent. His grandson indicated that Alzheimer’s disease seem to historical effect the male of the family often at an early age.
Nikolich told them about Wyss-Coray’s research and the potential for plasma-based therapies that revitalised the ageing brain. Before long, the conversation turned to starting a company. The family invested a year later. The money got Alkahest established and ready to launch the first human trial of young plasma.
Alkahest’s ultimate goal – to identify the key proteins in plasma that rejuvenate or age human tissues and then manufacture a product that uses them – could take 10 to 15 years. In the near term, the company has another strategy. Earlier this year, the Spanish blood products firm, Grifols, pledged $37.5m for a 45% stake in Alkahest. With another $12.5m, the company will bankroll more research in exchange for rights to Alkahest’s first products. Over the next two years, Alkahest will take human plasma and divide it into fractions that are rich in different proteins. Each fraction will then be tested in mice to see if they boost brain function. Any that do will be swiftly introduced into human trials and developed into the first generation of products.
The Alkahest trial is small. Sha, a specialist in behavioral neurology, can enroll only 18 people aged 50 to 90 with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Each receives a unit of young human plasma or saline once a week for four weeks. They have the next six weeks off, then have four more weeks of infusions. Those who had plasma first time around get saline and vice versa. The process is blinded, so neither the patients, nor their carers, nor Sha herself, know who is receiving what. Throughout the trial, doctors will look for cognitive improvements. Only at the end of the trial, as soon as October this year, will Sha analyse the findings.
If patients improve with infusions of young plasma, scientists will be ecstatic. But the finding, indicating that young blood rejuvenates, would need to be replicated, ideally at other hospitals, and in more patients, in order to convince researchers. If any benefits stand the test of time, the studies will move on, to tease out the best doses and ages at which to give plasma, how patients’ brains change, and whether improvements make a real difference to the life of someone who can no longer recognize their own family.
Then there is safety. Toying with the ageing process might backfire. Rando is concerned that pumping pro-youthful proteins into people for years could end up giving them cancer. Wyss-Coray agrees it is a worry, but points out that long-term growth hormone therapy appears to be safe. “We just don’t know yet whether or not it will be a problem,” he said.
Rando is more upbeat about infusing patients with pro-youthful proteins for short periods. An elderly person having surgery might get an infusion to help them heal like a teenager. “Let’s say it works. If you can target tissues and improve wound healing in older people, that would be a feasible approach. It would not be about making 90-year-olds younger, or having people live to 150. It’s about healthy living, not longer living,” he said.
In the first human trial of the effects of young blood, at Stanford University, infusions of blood plasma from young people are being given to older people. The preliminary results have surprised the research team, since it appears that all of the cells within the recipients’ bodies are showing marked improvement.
In some countries, there is already a legal market for blood plasma. In the wake of the BSE crisis of the 1990s, plasma donations are not used in the UK. But in the US, donors can make $200 a month (plus loyalty points) from plasma donations. The fresh plasma is separated from the blood, and the red blood cells returned to the bloodstream, in a sitting that lasts 90 minutes. The plasma is used in medical procedures, to treat coagulation disorders and immune deficiencies. The business is completely legitimate, but if young blood rejuvenates our cells is proved to have anti-ageing effects, the risk of backstreet operators setting up will soar. When I asked Wyss-Coray if the prospect worried him, he looked serious. “Absolutely,” he said. “There are always going to be nutcases.”
These are worst-case scenarios. The Stanford trial may find that simply injecting young plasma into old people has little or no effect. Wyss-Coray confesses that he suspects as much. He believes that rejuvenating older people might take a more potent brew than natural plasma. He has in mind a concentrated blend of 10 or 20 pro-youthful factors from young blood, mixed with antibodies that neutralise the effects of ageing factors found in old blood.
“As we get older, we have fewer stem cells and newly born neurons in our brains, and our learning and memory are affected,” says Villeda. “It’s not ddementia it’s just the natural degeneration associated with age.”
Amy Wagers emphasizes that no one has convincingly shown that young blood lengthens lives, and there is no promise that it will. Still, she says that young blood, or factors from it, may hold promise for helping elderly people to heal after surgery, or treating diseases of ageing.
Young mice blood has been studied to cause repair of age related damage such as cardiac hypertrophy, muscle dysfunction, demyelination processes and brain vasculature system in old mice. The mouse is the most common model organism for preclinical studies even though it has not proven particularly reliable at predicting the outcome of studies in humans.
Wyss-Coray one of the authors of the study mentioned in the question is a part of board of directors of a biotechnology start-up named Alkahest to explore the therapeutic implications of the mice findings in humans. The young mice blood treatment has been shown to have effects in old mice neural dysfunctions such as
1. Cardiac hypertrophy: Loffredo et.al. have concluded that treatment of old mice to restore GDF11 to youthful levels recapitulated the effects of parabiosis and reversed age-related hypertrophy, revealing a therapeutic opportunity for cardiac aging in 2013.
2. Muscle dysfunction: GDF11 systemically regulates muscle aging and may be therapeutically useful for reversing age-related skeletal muscle and stem cell dysfunction per conclusions of Sinha M et.al. in 2014.
3. Reversal of demyelination processes: Ruckh JM et.al. in 2012 concluded that enhanced remyelinating (Remyelination is a term for the re-generation of the nerve’s myelin sheath, damaged in many diseases) activity requires both youthful monocytes and other factors, and that remyelination-enhancing therapies targeting endogenous cells can be effective throughout life.
4. Improvement of brain vasculature system: Katsimpardi L et.al. in 2014 concluded that GDF11 alone can improve the cerebral vasculature and enhance neurogenesis. Studies in mice and Xenopus suggest that this protein is involved in mesodermal formation and neurogenesis during embryonic development. Research shows that there could be multiple forms of GDF11