Want to Live Longer? How Young Blood Holds the Key to Anti-Aging

When Victorian novelist Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, he probably didn't imagine that over a century later the idea of using human blood for rejuvenation would be a topic of serious scientific investigation. 

But pumping young blood into old bodies to stave off aging is a solution scientists recently put forward in the journal Nature, in an article seeking to solve the problems that arise from an aging global population burdened with disease.

Professor Linda Partridge of University College London’s Institute of Healthy Ageing told The Times that while scientists are no closer to helping us live for eternity, a rising health span—or the length of time we can live without illness—could be greatly extended in the not so distant future. 

“There’s been all this fantastic research in animals. It’s just crazy,” she said. “We’re really beginning to understand how malleable aging is. Now we need to push to translate this into humans.”

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Because our blood system is easily accessible, this makes “therapeutic manipulation a particularly attractive approach, but research in animals is needed to establish the long-term consequences and possible side effects,” the authors wrote.

One example cited by the authors was a 2017 study published in Nature exploring how human plasma from the umbilical cord appeared to revitalize the function of the hippocampus—the part of the brain in charge of spatial and episodic memory—in mice.

And a separate 2014 study published in the journal Nature Medicine found that when 3-month-old and 18-month-old mice were conjoined so they could share blood, the latter saw some signs of aging reversal. Neural connections in the brain, they team found, become stronger.

blood-stock Research indicates that youthful blood could one day be used to revitalize older people. Getty Images

In another piece of research, published in the journal Cell in March 2018, scientists identified a molecule that appeared to restart blood flow in older mice. Dr. David Sinclair, senior author of the study and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Harvard Medical School, told Time, "Loss of blood flow seems to be one of the early things that leads to diseases of aging. As organs like the brain and muscles lose their [blood] perfusion, they no longer function effectively."

Still, picking up a gallon of young blood at the pharmacy is far from becoming commonplace. Partridge said more research is needed to determine whether the same effects seen in animals can be replicated in humans.

But companies like Ambrosia, a startup that is selling $8,000 teenage blood plasma to older customers, already seem convinced by what is known as parabiosis. Billionaire tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel is one high-profile figure to have expressed public interest in the potential powers of blood as an elixir of youth. In a 2016 interview with Inc., he said, “I'm looking into parabiosis stuff, which I think is really interesting.”

However much we might want a quick fix, for now we must stick to the lifestyle changes we already know will slow aging, although we might not want to hear it, Partridge cautioned.

She said, “We know that there are easy lifestyle changes we can make: give up smoking, don’t eat too much, take plenty of exercise, [but] not everybody has the willpower or wish to undertake these."

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