Magic or Medicine?

I recently came across an article written by David Irving, an adjunct professor at the University of Technology in Sydney. The article “The Conversation” was published in Live Science’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.  In the essay David Irving and Allison Gould explored our cultural obsession with young blood and if there is any scientific evidence that it can delay the aging process.

Aging is always considered desirable for wisdom and status, or as something to be feared, eliminated or to be delayed as long as we possibly can.  The Western societies in the 16th to 18th centuries believed that old age was a time of considerable worth.  Since the 19th century ways have been sought to eliminate or minimize the effects of aging.  The Ethiopians were even believed to have a Fountain of Youth, where waters would bring youth and vigor to those who drank it.

The incredible fluid of blood is linked to the search for eternal youth in literature, legend, magic and medicine.  Some studies have claimed nearly vampire-like transfusions of blood from teenagers thought to delay or reverse the aging process.  The first transfusion between humans was first reported in 1492.

Tony Wyss-Coray, a neurobiologist studying Alzheimer’s disease at Stanford University is speaking on results of a trial where plasmas from donors aged 16-30 was transfused into patients with dementia.  Patients aged 54 to 86 with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease were infused with plasma or placebo twice a week for four weeks.  The patients showed no ill-effects, but also did not show any improvement in tests of thinking ability.  Some improvement in tests assessed on their daily living skills were demonstrated.

Participants aged 35-92 are paying $8,000 to be included in a trial of the transfer of plasma from people aged 16-25 in the hopes of feeling better.  Those treated had lower levels of several proteins as carcinoembryonic antigens and amyloid, known to be involved in disease.  The long term significance of this change is unclear.

Thomas Rando at the Stanford University found in 2005 that when they joined the bodies and circulations of old and young mice, the muscle and liver cells in the old mice were able to regenerate as well as those in their younger counterparts.  There are some problems with the interpretation of parabiosis experiments.

In 2014 the researchers found exposing an old mouse to young blood can decrease apparent brain age at the molecular level and also in the structures of the brain, as well as several measures of learning and memory.  While the old mice show benefits from the transfusions of the young mice, the young mice also show signs of aging when exposed to their elder’s blood.  Therefore, not only are there “youth proteins” in young blood, but also “elder proteins” in the blood of the older animals.  Therefore there are some factors in the blood that change with age that may one day lead to rational and targeted therapies for a variety of conditions.

Fredda Branyon