It’s said an organization needs “young blood” to keep it nimble and healthy - but what if infusions of literal young blood can keep the brain and body healthy too?
It’s a prospect that’s becoming increasingly enticing for those facing the realities of aging, and scientists have begun to pay attention. In a recently concluded study, patients with Alzheimer’s disease received weekly infusions of blood plasma donated from young people to see if it helped with their symptoms. It didn’t stop the march of the disease - and patients didn’t perform any better on cognitive tests - but some believe the results are still promising.
In the study, patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease received plasma infusions from 18 to 30-year-old male donors. Some received the plasma, while some received only a placebo of saline fluid, according to Nature.
Of those who received the plasma, the patients performed no better on any cognitive tests than those who had only received the placebo, according to Science Magazine. On some other factors, however, such as the ability to perform daily activities or perform simple tasks, their caregivers reported a slight improvement, according to Nature.
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The study was small - only 16 people received the plasma - but some people feel that it holds promise.
“It’s tempting to feel hopeful about the improvement in functional scores,” Tony Wyss-Coray, a researcher at Stanford University whose work with mice inspired the study, told Science Magazine.
The study comes about after a new flurry in interest in blood infusion. A similar study was performed in 2016, in which adults treated with infusions of young blood saw a decrease in the amyloid plauqes that can lead to to Alzheimer’s, reported New Scientist. A company called Ambrosia has been paying teenagers to let the company harvest their blood, with the goal of selling the blood in infusions to wealthy Silicon Valley icons looking to halt the aging process, reported CNBC.
The company that completed the most recent trial, a startup called Alkahest, wrote that it will present the results at an upcoming conference and wants to continue the research.
But critics say more information is needed about what in the blood actually causes these improvements - if it’s even the blood that’s causing them at all.
“They need to explain the potential mode of action,” neuroscientist Zaven Khachaturian, an adviser to the Alzheimer’s Association, told Science Magazine. He added that patients may only have performed better because “somebody paid attention to them.”
“The scientific basis for the trial is simply not there,” Irina Conboy, a neurologist at the University of California Berkeley, told Nature. “The effects of young blood on cognition have not been replicated by an independent group, and there has never been a test with a mouse model of Alzheimer’s.”