Vampire Science: Young Blood Recharges Old Brains

By Ben Thomas | May 4, 2014 12:26 pm

800px-Dracula_1958_b

In popular conception, blood is the life force. We say that “young blood” can rejuvenate an aging culture or company; Dracula refreshes himself with the blood of young victims.

But it turns out, this idea might have more scientific basis than we thought: a new study has found that an infusion of young blood can reverse some of the effects of aging in the brains of mice.

These results could mean a new paradigm for recharging our aging brains, including techniques to treat Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Mouse Melding

Tony Wyss-Coray at Stanford University and his team began by performing a bizarre-sounding experiment: They stitched together pairs of live laboratory mice, making sure that each pair’s circulatory systems were connected, so both mice would share the same blood.

The conjoined pairs of mice, known as parabionts, fell into two groups: A group in which both the mice in each parabiont had already aged to a ripe old 18 months; and a second group in which only one mouse from each parabiont was aged, while the other was only a few months old.

After the parabiont mouse pairs had spent five weeks sharing blood, the experimenters examined the genes in each mouse’s hippocampus – a brain structure crucial for learning and memory. They found that older mice which had gotten young blood displayed altered gene activity and more flexible signaling pathways in their hippocampus. Though the older animals’ brains didn’t transform all the way back into their younger selves, the flexibility of their connections was still well above the baseline of other mice their age.

Youthfulness Injections

This led the researchers to wonder if such brain changes would translate into better learning and memory for the old mice. The team gathered a new sample group of aged mice (not parabionts) and put them through three weeks of maze training. The mice got injections of blood plasma (the clear part of the blood made up of water, proteins and hormones) three times per week: Half got plasma from old mice, and half from young.

The results were striking: Aged mice injected with young plasma learned much more quickly, and remembered their mistakes much more consistently, than their counterparts. After a day of training, their maze-navigation error rates averaged about 25 percent lower than those of mice injected with aged plasma. The findings are reported this week in Nature Medicine.

But if brain aging can be reversed with something as simple as young blood, why hasn’t anyone tested this idea before? “This could’ve been done 20 years ago,” Wyss-Coray says. “You don’t need to know anything about how the brain works. You just give an old mouse young blood and see if the animal is smarter than before. I don’t know why no one tried it before – but until now, nobody did.”

Now that they’ve tried it and been proven right, though, Wyss-Coray and his team are eager to explore young blood’s potential regenerative effects beyond the hippocampus.

“I believe the rejuvenating effects are widespread – even going beyond the brain,” Wyss-Coray says. “We don’t know yet where the young factors come from, how they reach the brain, and which cells or receptors they target. I think there’ll turn out to be multiple rejuvenating factors, and we’re trying to isolate them now.”

If researchers are able to isolate those factors, physicians may be able to use those specific chemicals to treat diseases that come with brain aging, such as Alzheimer’s. And since blood and plasma transfusions are standard in medicine, the technique should be easy to adapt to trials in humans. The researchers hope to embark on human clinical trials in coming years.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
  • Travis Burch

    Think about all the plethora of reasons why this is obviously beneficial:

    – More nutrients delivered to cells (via better digestion/absorption in young rat). Nutrient deficiencies could be optimized.

    – Improved blood detoxification (youthful liver is benefitting both rats now)

    – Perhaps “cleaner” blood (lowered low-grade bacterial/viral infection in youthful blood) which could allow for better nutrient delivery and inflammatory response… this would also impact blood detoxification and endo- and exo-toxin status

    – Lowered inflammation (from improved low-grade infection status)

    – Hormonal supply and balance improvement

    I wouldn’t be surprised if insulin response and every other marker of stress/aging improved. What are the limits of this, given long enough tim? In any case, both the brain and body tissue would both benefit from cleaner, more nutrient-rich, hormonally-balanced blood. As the researchers said, multiple rejuvenating factors should be expected.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Longmire

    With all the good this knowledge can do for humanity I predict many world records will be broken in the next few years so some ignorant politician will outlaw it as barbaric. But it seems obvious to me that plasma from elite athletes should be analyzed extensively and perhaps transfused into the crippled masses.

  • Viva La Evolucion

    Where would I go about finding some baby blood to inject into myself? I want to see if it helps heal up my injured shoulder faster. Actually, it seems to me that it would work better if the blood was from a baby clone of yourself. So, you could make multiple clones of yourself (like dolly the sheep) and have them living in the matrix or something (those poor little clones :)…and then simply harvest the young blood from your little clones and inject it into yourself daily to live a thousand years. Or better yet, I heard that they just came out with lab grown blood made from stem cells, so maybe you could take the stem cells from your baby clone embryo and grow gallons of blood from them. The clone embryo could be terminated after it’s stem cells have been extracted. That way you won’t have to have clones living in the matrix to obtain your baby blood :-)

  • Don Schenk

    Now the liberals will demand that young adults will be drained of all their blood as part of Obamacare–and if you object that that would be immoral, you’re imposing your religion on them.

    • Rolf

      Since the GOP is the party of rich, old, white men, the demand for young blood will come from them. And besides, they drink Jesus’ blood every Sunday, so it’s nothing abnormal.

      • Don Schenk

        Actually, it’s the Democratic Party that gets the most money from elderly white billionaires. Why do you think that Obama is so determined to see that the elderly white billionaires don’t have to pay any child support?

  • Wayne Robert Smith

    So scientists have potentially discovered the fountain of youth but say we should all wait a few years because blood transfusions might prove dangerous? The same idiots who never thought of trying this simple experiment earlier? Let me think. Screw you guys! I’ll do it for myself and let you idiots know the results. How much did we waste on tax-payer funded medical research last year? I feel like burning down a lab!

  • Mia Dodson

    Yes, yes, yes, give me some

  • Bob

    I would say then that the real question isn’t how long does the effect last but how bad is diminishing returns, or does it stop working after a while?

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

D-brief

Briefing you on the must-know news and trending topics in science and technology today.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »