In a few months, scientists at Stanford will begin treating Alzheimer's patients by injecting them with the blood of the young. I know, I know. In short: Young blood has a certain protein, known as GDF11, which depletes over time. First, researchers tried injecting GDF11 from young mice into old mice and found that it improved both physical endurance and cognitive function. Buoyed by that success, come October, they're going to try it on humans.
From the New Scientist:
In both mice and humans, GDF11 falls with age. We don't know why it declines, but we know it is involved in several mechanisms that control growth. It is also thought to mediate some age-related effects on the brain, in part by activation of another protein that is involved in neuronal growth and long-term memory.
So the billion-dollar question is: would a GDF11 boost have the same effect in humans? [Stanford's Tony] Wyss-Coray thinks it will, having taken the next step of injecting young human blood plasma into old mice. His preliminary results suggest that human blood has similar rejuvenating benefits for old mice as young mouse blood does.
"We saw these astounding effects," he says. "The human blood had beneficial effects on every organ we've studied so far."
Now, the final step – giving young human blood plasma to older people with a medical condition – is about to begin. Getting approval to perform the experiment in humans has been relatively simple, says Wyss-Coray, thanks to the long safety record of blood transfusions. He warns against swapping blood at home because transfusions need to be screened for disease, matched for blood type and the plasma needs to be separated out. "Certainly you can't drink the blood," he says. "Although obviously we haven't tried that experiment."
Forgive me here—this science is wonderful, and the implications of it both fascinating and encouraging—but what caught my eye was that final hedge from Wyss-Coray, those famous last words from next summer's anti-utopian blockbuster: "Although obviously we haven't tried that experiment." Unsure of whether or not I was being daft or if he had simply used awkward phrasing, I sent Wyss-Coray an email. You know, just to make sure.
It is highly unlikely that drinking blood would have positive effects since our digestive system would degrade any of the activities people think could be responsible for the beneficial effects of young blood.
That vision of society 40 years from now, the one where the life of an under-30-year-old is a constant, paranoid flight from the hordes of thirsty Alzheimer's patients—it's highly unlikely. —Ryan O'Hanlon