The news: This new finding sounds like it's straight out of a vampire movie: Scientists have discovered the secret to maintaining youth and health, and it's receiving fresh, young blood.
On Sunday, three separate studies came out with evidence that blood infusions can rejuvenate the human body and reverse effects of aging in the brain, muscles, heart and other organs. So far, experiments have been only conducted on mice, but researchers strongly believe that a similar therapy will work on humans.
"The evidence is strong enough now, in multiple tissues, that it's warranted to try and apply this in humans," said Saul Villeda, a lead author in one of the studies. "There's something about young blood that can literally reverse the impairments you see in the older brain."
Image Credit: Science
How it works: To test their theory, researchers at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Harvard University tried two different methods: conjoining old and young mice together and injecting plasma from the young into the old. Both methods had a startling effect on old mice with noticeable reversal of age-related damage in the mice's brains.
The UCSF study linked the de-aging effect to a protein called Creb (cyclic AMP response element-binding protein), which is bolstered by young plasma. The protein works as a regulator in the brain and helps to create new neural connections, which improves cognitive function, as demonstrated by the increased ease with which old mice navigated mazes and avoided threats after being injected with young blood.
But the Harvard group also found that a protein called GDF11 may play a key role in improving mice health. The presence of GDF11 in the injected blood revived the old mice's stem cells, creating new tissue, improving cell health and increasing grip, endurance and sense of smell. A second Harvard study directly injected GDF11 into old mice, and found that it restored the protein to youthful levels.
And that's all good news for humans. "The protein is identical in mice and humans and it is also present in the bloodstream in humans," said Amy Wagers, a senior author on both Harvard papers. "Our preliminary analyses suggest that it is similarly down-regulated with age, so we think its effects are likely to translate to humans."
What this means: The UCSF and Harvard researchers hope to try human clinical trials in three to five years. If they can replicate the same level of success as they did with mice, it may become the biggest medical breakthrough to come in years.
As previous research has shown, the effects of aging can mainly be attributed to the exhaustion of stem cells and telomere damage. If blood infusions can reverse these processes, then aging as we know it may become a thing of the past.
This article is not an endorsement of bathing in the blood of virgins. But these age-old myths now have a scientific basis. It seems that the elusive fountain of youth may have been with us all along — inside our own bodies.