Since the dawn of medicine, practioners have constantly been on a quest to prolong life expectancy. With the advancements in this modern age, they have made leaps in accomplishing this feat. But that is only half of it…

With increased life expectancy comes increased age. With increased aging comes increased degeneration of function. This multi-organ degeneration of function sets the body up to acquire age-related disorders. What if I told you that this too might soon become reversible?

In a JAMA Neurology article published on August 3, 2015, Professor Tony Wyss-Coray and colleagues from Standford University School of Medicine highlighted ongoing studies that have been laying down the groundwork in searching for solutions for this very problem. The researchers conducting the study are employing a physiological parabioses–a surgical technique connecting the blood supply of a young and old mouse.

It sounds like something out of an old vampire film, but actually the findings are astounding and may change the face of geriatric medicine.

On Muscle

“Exposure to young blood substantially reduces the age-dependent increase in tissue fibrosis that accompanies loss of muscle regeneration,” wrote Wyss-Coray.

Basically what this means is that as we naturally get older, our muscles lose their regenerative powers and become fibrosed (thickened). This is a common trait amongst mice and humans. Researchers found that following injury, the mice that received young blood healed faster–with quicker muscle regeneration time and less fibrosis, as compared to mice who did not receive young blood.

And for those of you who still don’t quite get it, or just don’t want to get it (either way is fine) just get this, remember this, write it down in a pros and cons list if you need to—this is point number one, and it is in favor.

On Liver

Researchers Conboy and colleagues tested the young blood theory on hepatocytes (liver cells) and according to Wyss-Coray, found that these cells did “indeed exhibit youthful proliferation and a reversal of age-related cEBP-α-Brm, a complex that accumulates with liver aging,”

Without getting into complicated molecular biology, the words ‘youthful proliferation’ and ‘reversal of age’ make it pretty easy to understand basically what the researchers are trying to say: that young blood rejuvenated the liver. And that is a good thing.

On Heart

Researchers Loffredo and colleagues found that young blood had an impact on heart size and weight, and was responsible for reducing heart weight in aged mice. Typically, as a part of the natural aging process, the heart becomes larger and stiffer. And this contributes to heart disease. So if young blood is responsible for essentially shrinking the heart and making it lighter, that is a very good thing. Add this to the pros side of your pros and cons list and underline it twice.

On Memory

Experiments also confirmed that old mice treated for three weeks with young blood injections performed better on cognitive memory maze tests. Researchers also found that plasma chemokine CCL11, which is more common in older mice, impairs memory and brain cell regeneration when given to younger mice. However, growth factor GDF11 which is more common in younger mice, increases brain cell regeneration in older mice.

So this basically means two things: when you give old blood to young mice, it causes the young mice to become more forgetful and have worsened cognitive skills. And when you give young blood to old mice, the old mice have sharper memories and better cognitive skills. It’s a two way street.

Though it seems surreal, understanding this is not rocket science. Blood is a common element that ebbs and flows throughout our bodies and connects all of the organs. Blood contains messengers, namely hormones and growth factors.

“We know from studies in our lab that these messengers are very different in young and old blood. In fact, we find that young blood has many factors involved in repair and maintenance of tissue whereas in old blood we find factors involved in inflammation,” said Wyss-Coray in a talk at the World Economic Forum. The factors in young blood essentially recharge and revitalize the old organs.

Wyss-Coray himself is especially focused on the clinical implications young blood may have on Alzheimer’s patients. In mice, young blood has proven to rejuvenate various cell types in the central nervous system, increase plasticity (molding) of neuronal circuitry, improve olfactory memory and improve hippocampus-dependent memory and learning. Wyss-Coray has co-founded a biotech company called Alkahest Inc., to conduct clinical trials of young blood on Alzheimer patients. According to Wyss-Coray, “The possibility that one or many proteins in young human blood can rejuvenate a diversity of organs is a tantalizing one that should spur further research, informing both our understanding of the basic biology of aging as well as the development of novel therapies that target diseases of aging.”

On Cancer

If at this point, all of this sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. Nothing in life is ever all positive without a hint a negative. And the negative, the one ‘con’ on the list so far (props to whoever is still keeping one…actually, no, props to whoever even started one in the first place) is risk of cancer. Anytime and anywhere there is a therapy that promises cell growth, there is a risk that the cells may grow uncontrollably to the point where you have to suspend them with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and/or surgery. Cancer is sneaky and it is no joke.

But luckily, Wyss-Coray has noted this implication judiciously.

“Given the likelihood that growth-promoting molecules are abundant in young plasma, it will be important to assess safety to limit the potential for cancer,” he said. The research will proceed, but cautiously.

Young Blood– May Hold Key To Reversing Aging

If people still generally believed that dissection was necromancy, physicians today would not have a clear understanding of human anatomy. That is just one (kind of gory) example. There’s countless more but I just don’t want to use them all up right now. Basically, science did not get to the magnitude of where it is now without calculated risks.

More research is definitely required to test its efficacy on humans, but IF it proves to be just as efficient on humans as it has been on mice, then careful treatment with young blood may just change the face of geriatric medicine, and quite possibly the 21st century.