Young blood may be the key ingredient to reverse the aging process, new studies released today from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Stanford University and the University of California at San Francisco concluded.
In three independent trials, researchers injected elderly mice with blood from younger mice and discovered it rejuvenated them in mind and body. The old mice with younger blood could navigate mazes faster, run longer on treadmills and they even exhibited a stronger sense of smell. The reverse proved true as well—younger mice who received blood from elderly mice were more lethargic and performed poorly across the board. Old blood appears to cause premature aging. The young mice in the studies were the human equivalent of people in their 20s, scientists said.
"We can turn back the clock instead of slowing the clock down," the director of the Center for Molecular Medicine at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute told The New York Times.
Pumping younger blood into mice isn't exactly new, but previously scientists only studied its positive effects on the heart. Now they've documented how it enhances strength and brain power. Researches noted an increase in neurons and muscle tissue.
Even four to five weeks later, the studies found the mice with younger blood had less DNA damage than their control counterparts, and they had higher blood flow to their head, and thus experienced more neural stem cell activity.
Young blood contains the protein GDF11, explained the findings by one team at the University of California in San Francisco and one at Harvard. Perhaps blood transfusions are not essential, because another study found that injections of pure GDF11 also increased circulation, blood vessels in the brain, strength and endurance.
While some scientists said more studies need to be conducted before they can test the transfusions on humans, neuroscientist Tony Wyss-Coray says it's safe. His new start-up company Alkahest intends to conduct the first human clinical trial this year, testing the cognitive effects of young blood on a group of Alzheimer's patients at Stanford.
“Right now we can’t do anything for Alzheimer’s patients, and this seems so easy and simple,” Wyss-Coray told The Washington Post.
Young blood, or GDF11 in particular, is the first ingredient scientist have found to actually reverse aging. In 2009, researchers determined the drug rapamycin helped slow aging and extend the life span of mice.
“[Rapamycin] and caloric restriction seemed to slow the aging process, not necessarily stop or even reverse it,” Campisi said. “But GDF11 seems to reverse it.”