Vampire science: young blood recharges old brains - Happy + Well : Happy + Well

Vampire science: young blood recharges old brains

Written by on August 24, 2015 in Wellness with 1 Comment

imagesNaturally as we get older we hope that we’ll be able to maintain as much as possible our youthful good looks. Ask most people about their anti-ageing regime and they’ll talk about the importance of exercise, eating well, and staying out of the sun. And if they’re really dedicated to staving off wrinkly and sagging skin, they might even invest in cosmetic surgery.

Yet when it comes to age-related cognitive decline, things get a bit more complicated in terms of what we can do ourselves because the problem lies within the brain. We know exercise (again) and brain training programs go some way towards reversing the effects of too many birthdays but is there anything else we can do to ward off senility?

What about, for example, receiving blood transfusions sourced from the very young? No, this isn’t a joke much as it sounds like some plot line from a B grade horror movie. On the contrary, as Dr Saul Villeda, Lab Chief at the University of California, San Francisco, describes it in this interview, this kind of neurologic rejuvenation is based on very sound science.

Although the idea of mixing young blood with old was first described in the mid 1800s, Villeda says scientists only began thinking about its usefulness in the context of ageing much more recently, in particular “looking at the effects of young blood on stem cells in muscle and [showing] that young blood could rejuvenate stem cell activity.”

His own interest has been studying the effects of young blood, specifically the plasma component, in an old brain. Interestingly, when his team injected old blood into young mice in 2011, Villeda says it was “detrimental. Cognitively the stem cells decrease in the brain. So there is something that is accumulating in old blood that is promoting ageing. And then the experiment we did now is we took young blood, young plasma, and put it into an old animal. It turns out you can reverse some of the impairments that are normally there.”

After doing more experiments, Villeda and his colleagues were able to ascertain that something called CREB, which has a well-documented role in neuronal plasticity and spatial and long term memory formation, was involved. He says, “normally this master regulator is turned off with ageing; somehow young blood is turning it back on” and the mice are responding accordingly in terms of more sprightly behaviour. Young blood is also helping maintain, and in some cases even restore, neural communication. Plus it’s actually “stimulating more neurons to be born.”

So how young does this blood have to be? Villeda says they sourced blood from three-month-old mice – equivalent to a human in his/her 20s – and that their research suggests blood taken from someone younger than 40 will yield similar results. But any older than that and “it may be too late to use it for beneficial effect.”

At present, Villeda says his lab has several priorities, one being to ascertain “why on earth is it even possible to rejuvenate old tissue? … We thought that ageing was final, and apparently it’s not, it’s plastic. So we are really interested in understanding that … What cells are plastic, and what’s the minimal amount of plasticity you need to elicit things like cognitive rejuvenation?”


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  1. cathy says:

    not as strange as it sounds… Keith Richards has been doing it for years!

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