People have been searching for the key to eternal life for centuries without any success, until recently when scientists discovered that rodents’ blood could hold the secret. When blood from younger mice was injected into older ones, there appeared to be a reversal to some of the effects of aging.
In one experiment, two mice from different ages were conjoined to share blood circulation and within four weeks the older one showed dramatic improvement in both muscles and brain activity. The older mouse got a significant boost of activity in both those areas and started to produce neurons and muscle tissue.
Later the researchers started tests with injections of a special protein found abundantly in young blood and managed to reproduce the same results as in mice with shared blood circulation. Old mice that were injected with the protein navigated mazes faster and easily outperformed their peers on treadmills.
Younger mice who shared circulatory system with older ones were not so lucky. Rather than retaining their youthful spirits, they showed signs of aging prematurely.
Nature Medicine study author and neuroscientist Tony Wyss-Coray of Stanford said he hopes to move on to human trials immediately. His new start-up company, Alkahest, is planning the first young-blood clinical trial at Stanford this year. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease will be given young blood and their cognitive conditions will be measured before and after.
“Right now we can’t do anything for Alzheimer’s patients, and this seems so easy and simple,” Wyss-Coray said. “Most diseases that affect industrialized nations have a very strong aging component, and these are currently studied in isolation.”
The process of aging is an area in which scientific understanding is still fuzzy at best. Organ function, cognitive ability and stem-cell activity decline over time, in both mice and people, but it isn’t clear exactly why. The body becomes increasingly vulnerable to disease — and even healthy elderly bodies can never be what they once were.
A few recent animal studies have claimed to increase longevity. In 2009, a drug called rapamycin was shown to extend the life span of mice by about 10 percent. Also, a calorie-restricted diet received much attention for its proven health benefits for monkeys. However, nothing has been proven to reverse the adverse effects of aging — something that young blood appears to do.