The long read: A series of experiments has produced incredible results by giving young blood to old mice. Now the findings are being tested on humans. Ian Sample meets the scientists whose research could transform our lives.
Villeda got three hours’ sleep that night. The next morning he stood up at the lab meeting and revealed to his colleagues what young blood did to the ageing brain. ‘There was a palpable electricity in the room’ Wyss-Coray recalled. ‘I remember seeing the images for the first time and saying ‘Wow.’
Old mice that received young blood experienced a burst of brain cell growth in the hippocampus. They had three to four times as many newborn neurons as their counterparts. But that was not all: old blood had the opposite effect on the brains of young mice – stalling the birth of new neurons and leaving them looking old before their time.
The other scientists in the room were stunned. Some were sceptical. Could it be real? ‘This could be big’ said Wyss-Coray. ‘If an old mouse starts to make more neurons when you give it young blood? That is amazing’.
Since that meeting seven years ago research on this topic has moved on dramatically. It has led some to speculate that in young blood might lie an antidote to the ravages of old age. But the apparent rejuvenating properties of young blood must be treated with healthy scepticism. The hopes they raise rest solely on mouse studies. No beneficial effects have ever been proven in humans. Then again no one has ever looked.
That is about to change. In October 2014 Wyss-Coray launched the first human trial of young blood. At Stanford School of Medicine infusions of blood plasma from young people are being given to older people with Alzheimer’s disease.
The results are expected at the end of the year. It is the greatest test yet for the medical potential of young blood.
(ed:..could this inspire winston peters to support a youth wing for nz first..?..d’yareckon..?..blood-group listed on the party application forms..?..)