I couldn’t resist a bit of vampire melodrama in the headline (evidently, neither can anyone else reporting this story) but it’s pretty exciting news with some great implications for elderly care: it would seem that transfusing young blood into older animals actually does have rejuvenating properties. It’s an idea that has been subject to experimental testing in rats since the Fifties, but the New York Times reports that scientists now think they have a basic understanding of how it works: young blood essentially “reboots” the stem cells in aging tissue.
The scientists joined old and young mice for five weeks and then examined them. The muscles of the old mice had healed about as quickly as those of the young mice, the scientists reported in 2005. In addition, the old mice had grown new liver cells at a youthful rate.
The young mice, on the other hand, had effectively grown prematurely old. Their muscles had healed more slowly, and their stem cells had not turned into new cells as quickly as they had before the procedure.
The experiment indicated that there were compounds in the blood of the young mice that could awaken old stem cells and rejuvenate aging tissue. Likewise, the blood of the old mice had compounds that dampened the resilience of the young mice.
Amy J. Wagers, a member of Dr. [Thomas] Rando’s team, continued to study the blood of young mice after she moved in 2004 to Harvard, where she is an associate professor. Last year, she and her colleagues demonstrated that it could rejuvenate the hearts of old mice.
Further experiments seem to have regenerated the memory capacity of elderly mice using proteins from young blood, which could have enormous implications for treating human memory loss. With the exact protein isolated, it shouldn’t be necessary to drain any young people of their blood to rejuvenate the elderly, which is good medicine but ruins a great dystopian science fiction setting. The Times article quotes scientists who worry about the possibility that perking up the wrong stem cells might increase cancer risks, but once that’s under control and the protein infusions have been suitably refined, we could be looking at some wonderful treatments for all sorts of maladies that afflict the elderly. Maybe 80 will be the new 30 before long…