May 12, 2014
Give Me Young Blood
Who wants to live forever? I’m not sure I do. Sometimes I think, “I’ve had enough now.” Creeping ennui and a creaking body are not a great combination. Then again, at other times I think of all things I haven’t done yet, all the places I want to see or go back to, the simple beautiful pleasures of life, the people I love, and realize I am running out of time. The trouble is that the relentless deterioration of body and mind makes these things harder. What you need is young blood – and that’s exactly what the latest research from America is suggesting; an infusion of blood from the young can rejuvenate the old. For now, it’s strictly for the mice, but within the next few years it could be a revolutionary breakthrough for humans.
In three different reports published recently, it has been shown that the process of aging can be slowed or reversed. Senescence — the body’s natural decline — affects muscles, bones, and major organs, including the heart and brain. Stamina, energy, physical strength, the ability to learn, and memory all decline steadily. Diseases like cancer, dementia, heart disease and diabetes are all associated with the aging process. So anything that rolls back the wrinkles has to be a good thing. After all, the reason most of us might not want to live forever is the fear of being trapped in a failing body with a diminished mind.
By injecting the blood of young mice into their older counterparts, the studies established that certain blood chemicals could actually turn back the years. Growth of blood vessels in the brain was stimulated, meaning better blood circulation. The production of neural stem cells was also boosted. Injecting younger mice with older blood had the reverse effect – neural stem cell numbers were reduced demonstrating a clear link. Two of the reports found that one chemical in particular was a major factor in the rejuvenation process. The blood protein GDF11 decreases in older mice, and this is thought to be connected with aging. Introducing young blood GDF11 seems to have an incredible role to play in restoring brain and body function.
The exciting thing is that GDF11 is found in human blood and is identical to the mouse protein. It also appears to degenerate in humans in the same way. GDF11 has also been used to reverse deterioration in mouse hearts. The hope is that replicating the “young blood for old” process and using GDF11 will have the same beneficial effects for people. Scientists at Harvard expect to be able to hold a trial for the GDF11 and young blood transfusion process in humans within three to five years.
So, maybe man’s dream of increased longevity, immortality even, is a lot closer than we thought. Perhaps more important is the hope that new treatments can be developed from these studies to reduce the terrible toll that age-related illness takes on the elderly. The implications are enormous – longer lives mean increased populations, for one thing. There will of course be a lot of ethical debates. Is this unnatural; man playing God? Those arguments will not worry many people who suffer from the curse of old age.
It seems such a simple thing. So simple, in fact, that some of the researchers thought there should be a general warning – don’t try this at home!
Image Credit: Thinkstock