Is the age of the vampire close at hand? Was Dracula really on to something?
Experiments on mice have shown that it is possible to rejuvenate the brains of older mice by injecting them with the blood of younger mice.
Saul Villeda of California’s Stanford University, who headed the research team, revealed his startling discoveries at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans last week. He explained that he had observed how blood from young mice could reverse aging effects in older mice, by improving their learning and memory.
Villeda presented his audience with descriptions of experiments in which the circulatory systems of an old and young mouse were joined together, so that their blood could mingle. He reported that when he examined the older mouse after several days, he found clear signs of the aging process being reversed. The older mice also had a 20% increase in brain cell connections and their number of stem cells increased. (Problems with memory are generally associated with a decreasing number of connections.)
How did this experiment work? Here’s how The Guardian explains it:
In the latest study, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, Villeda also tested the behaviour of the rejuvenated mice. He took blood plasma – the fluid portion of blood that is not cells – from two-month-old mice and injected small amounts, around 5% of the total amount of blood in a mouse by volume, into 18-month-old animals eight times over the course of a month.
When he put the animals into a water maze, a test where they have to remember the location of a hidden platform, he found that the older mice did almost as well as mice of 4-6 months old. Untreated older mice would make many errors and swim down blind alleys in their attempts to find the hidden platform, whereas the mice that had received plasma from young mice located the platform first time, in most cases.
The idea is that younger blood contains certain chemical factors that promote brain health and plasticity, but which decline as animals and presumably people begin to age. If you reintroduce those factors, the effects of aging on the brain are reversed. Exactly which factors are creating this effect is not clear, since there are hundreds of thousands of them in blood.
Fountain of Youth or Fountain of Blood? Do you envisage a future in which the old and infirm steal the blood of the young in order to regain their former powers?
Probably not, since the indications are that it’s going to be necessary to isolate exactly which factors in the blood are causing aging to reverse itself. But if they can achieve this, some scientists can see a future where those key components in young blood might be injected to slow down the aging process.
As Villeda tells The Guardian:
“Do I think that giving young blood could have an effect on a human? I’m thinking more and more that it might. I did not, for sure, three years ago.”
So these research findings should be taken seriously. If indeed the effects of aging can be slowed down or reversed, does this also mean that Alzheimer’s can be pushed back, or the effects of brain injuries reversed?
This would be huge news, since 250,000 people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, 600,000 people have strokes, and 80,000 suffer traumatic brain injuries annually in the United States, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.
In any case, Chris Mason, professor of regenerative medicine bioprocessing at University College, London, is optimistic.
Mason told The Guardian:
“Even if the finding leads only to a drug that prevents, rather than reverses the normal effects of ageing on the brain, the impact upon future generations will be substantial – potentially outweighing other wonder drugs such as penicillin.”
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