Thursday, 17 November 2016

Could Blood be Anti-Aging?

It may scare the living daylights out of anyone who isn't all that into life extension, but research has found that injecting the blood of young humans into those with older bodies may physically rejuvenate them back into a younger state. The surprising thing? Young blood seems to work in inter-species transfusions too.

In this study, researchers gave blood samples from 18-year-old human volunteers to one-year-old mice, which is roughly the equivalent of a person in their 50s. The mice received twice-weekly injections of blood plasma for three weeks, and were then compared to 3-month and 12-year-old mice who hadn't had any injections. Amazingly, the plasma made the older mice act like the young mice, now running around in open spaces. They also showed improvements in memory. The treated mice were put into a Barnes maze, which tests spatial memory and learning, and they navigated it as well as a young mouse would. It is most likely that the regenerating properties of young blood plasma are down to differences in protein content. A young person's blood contains many proteins that promote rejuvenation, but someone who is older has less of these and more damaging, inflammatory molecules. Unfortunately, the researchers aren't sharing information on what these proteins are yet, but it is known that some are able to cross the blood-brain barrier. The treated mice also had more neurons (brain cells) than the untreated older mice, suggesting that the young plasma proteins trigger the growth of new neurons.

"Don't leave me out!" - this pu-erh tea. Source: PanShiBo
This research follows earlier studies that were reported in 2014, where the blood of younger mice regenerated the brains and muscles of older mice, partly because of an increase in neural stem cells. The protein GDF11 increased muscle strength and endurance. However, this year's study looks like the first to show the same effect with human blood. The researchers have now begun a clinical trial on 18 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, and want to see if the effects of young plasma proteins will fight the inflammation that leads to diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. If successful, they will produce synthetic versions of the young plasma proteins, to ensure a steady, sufficient supply. Or, perhaps the blood of animals killed for meat would contain these same proteins, making the treatment cheaper (and more difficult to patent), or there may be plant analogues of them.

The last point, about the plasma proteins being able to fight or reverse the effects of inflammation, also opens the door for traditional natural medicine to either integrate with the potential new therapy or to develop a "poor man's" version of it. Inflammation is a key driver of aging, and some natural products such as reishi mushroom and Pu-erh tea extract have shown powerful effects against it. One way that they can fight inflammation is by reducing the level of interleukin-6 (IL-6); in fact, Pu-erh extract was able to lower it by 43% in one study! Elevated IL-6 has been linked to a 118% increased risk of death from any cause in people over 80, and nearly triples the risk of knee osteoarthritis. The Pu-erh extract also increased a type of bone marrow stem cell by 42%, which could improve immunity. While reishi doesn't seem to stimulate bone marrow like Pu-erh, it may improve the functioning of already existent immune cells. Overall, there are some exciting (or terrifying, if you're not into it, but then again I'd want to scare you) developments in the field of anti-aging, with even the future of current nursing home residents looking more uncertain - in a good way.

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