Young plasma may or may not be able to reverse aging. There is as yet simply no peer-reviewed human data published in respectable scientific journals to conclude one way or the other.
However, pesky inconveniences like facts aren’t going to stand in the way when there’s enormous public interest and hefty investor bucks in the race to turn back the clock on aging (). The mythical fountain of youth is simply too irresistible a target for caution and prudence to hold sway.
Updated February 20, 2019: Apparently the problem has become so acute, the FDA has felt the need to warn consumers against using plasma infusions from young blood donors as a panacea for all kinds of aging-related health conditions.
Blood/Plasma Transfusion, A Proven Safe Low Cost Technology, Married To The Very Human Desire To Live Longer = Start-up Gold Rush
Plenty of entrepreneurs sense a once in a lifetime business opportunity in “young blood” (). After all, blood and plasma transfusions have now been carried out safely millions of times since the 20th century and are indeed even standard medical practice.
- No published human data yet supports the notion that young plasma/blood transfusion could reverse or slow down aging.
- Where is the evidence that repeated plasma/blood transfusions, especially in the aged, are healthy or even safe?
- If “young blood” works by stimulating stem cells, which seems to be something of a consensus among some researchers, could too much stem cell activation lead to cancers?
Alkahest (), Ambrosia ( ), Florida-based physician Dr. Dipnarine Maharaj ( ) are just some of the start-ups seeking to leverage the promise of “young blood” into revenue gold ( ).
None of their human studies listed onhave yet posted results published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Brief History Of The Notion That Young (Rodent) Blood Could Reverse Aging
That blood or something in blood may help reverse aging stems from results of, an old rather ghastly surgical technique used to stitch two rodents together to link their circulatory systems ( ).
At Cornell University, starting within the 1950s and continuing into the 1970s, such studies found that doing so could seemingly rejuvenate the older partner in the pairing; increase their bone density (6) and extend their lifespans by an average of 4 to 5 months (7) (lab mice live ~2 years).
However these studies and their results (see below from) faded from memory as changing scientific culture made it more difficult for scientific committees to justify approving such drastic surgeries for what then amounted to ‘let’s see what happens’ types of fishing expeditions.
A few aging research labs revived mouse parabiosis studies in the 2000s and found pretty much the same results as McCay, that it seems to make brains, hearts and muscles of old mice stronger and healthier (). Their initial studies suggested circulating proteins rather than red or white blood cells were associated with these effects.
Some researchers then set about dissecting exactly which ones were necessary and/or sufficient to recapitulate such results, by screening for proteins abundant in young but not old mouse blood ().
In 2013, scientists could seemingly make old mice thinner and their hearts better able to pump blood, all by merely injecting a blood-derived protein (). This group then followed up with two studies in 2014 where they found this protein, , could spur the growth of new blood vessels and neurons in brain ( ) while also being able to better recruit stem cells to regenerate skeletal muscle at injury sites ( ).
Science magazine even named these results one of its breakthroughs of the year back in 2014.
Problem is other labs not only could not replicate these results but in fact found that GDF11 levels increase with age and actually harm mouse skeletal muscle function (, , , ).
The original group (, , ) turns out to have used an antibody reagent and an assay that detected not just GDF11 but also a closely related protein, myostatin. These proteins have ~90% similar amino acid sequence. In fact, rat and human GDF11 levels may even increase and not decrease with age ( , , , ), meaning GDF11 may stoke aging and not the reverse!
Mouse anti-aging studies using blood or blood-derived products thus landed back to square one with quite the thud. Notwithstanding, investor interest in “young blood” as the proverbial elixir of youth seems to have lifted off to stratospheric levels, like the proverbial gold rushes of yore (), with one start-up, Elevian, even going all in on yes, none other than GDF11 ( ).
To paraphrase the incomparable Bette Davis, better fasten your seat belts, this one looks set to be quite the bumpy ride!
5. Scudellari, Megan. “Blood to blood.” Nature 517.7535 (2015): 426.
6. Horrington, Emily M., et al. “Age changes in the bones, blood pressure, and diseases of rats in parabiosis.” Gerontology 4.1 (1960): 21-31.
7. Ludwig, Frederic C., and Robert M. Elashoff. “Mortality in syngeneic rat parabionts of different chronological age.” Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences 34.7 Series II (1972): 582-587.
8. Reardon, S. “Young blood» anti-ageing mechanism called into question.” Nature 536 (2015): E6-E9.
9. Loffredo, Francesco S., et al. “Growth differentiation factor 11 is a circulating factor that reverses age-related cardiac hypertrophy.” Cell 153.4 (2013): 828-839.
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15. Brun, Caroline E., and Michael A. Rudnicki. “GDF11 and the mythical fountain of youth.” Cell metabolism 22.1 (2015): 54-56.
16. Glass, David J. “Elevated GDF11 is a risk factor for age-related frailty and disease in humans.” Cell metabolism 24.1 (2016): 7-8.
17. Schafer, Marissa J., et al. “Quantification of GDF11 and myostatin in human aging and cardiovascular disease.” Cell metabolism 23.6 (2016): 1207-1215.
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