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Published on: May 5, 2014
by Fiona Macrae for Daily Mail:
It sounds like a barely believable plot in a Dracula-inspired novel. But scientists believe that regular injections of young blood could help keep us youthful in both mind and body. Studies reveal that a chemical found in young blood can boost brains and strengthen withered muscles.
The discovery could even help those already suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s, with hopes that tests on patients could start later this year.
And it may also be possible to create a pill to avoid the need for injections for the squeamish.
Professor Chris Mason, an expert in regenerative medicine from University College London, spoke of the potential benefits. ‘Dracula’s power to grow stronger by drinking blood would be trivial compared to the impact of a drug discovered in blood that produced true brain rejuvenation for all,’ he said.
The excitement surrounds three experiments from the US, which some may find ghoulish.
In one, pairs of older and younger mice were studied after their blood vessels were connected to allow flow from one to the other.
The scientists also gave the older animals regular jabs of young blood. The study found that the youthful blood boosted the number of connections between cells in the brain’s memory hub and made them stronger.
A fading sense of smell was also sharpened, said researchers in California.
Meanwhile, the older mice did as well as younger animals in tests in which they had to remember how to navigate out of a ‘swimming pool’, the journal Nature reported.
Researcher Tony Wyss-Coray said: ‘It’s as if the old brains were recharged by young blood.’
He hopes to test the treatment on Alzheimer’s patients in a matter of months.
Co-researcher Saul Villeda added: ‘We’ve shown that at least some age-related impairments on brain function are reversible.
‘They’re not final.’ He said that it might be possible to use young blood to keep the brain healthy into old age.
In addition, said Mr Villeda, the rejuvenating effect could also help those who have already developed diseases like Alzheimer’s.
In a second study published in the journal Science, researchers from Harvard University used young blood to boost the strength of ageing mice by up to half.
Endurance was also improved and a protein called GDF11 was found to be key.
The third piece of research, also from Harvard, pointed to GDF11 helping to sharpen smell.
This suggests it may be possible to encapsulate the benefits of young blood in a pill, rather than needing regular injections.
Professor Mason said: ‘The Dracula fantasy of drinking blood to regenerate is so last century compared to the reality of the scientific breakthroughs in regenerative medicine.
‘If, and it’s a big if, GDF11 goes on to achieve real rejuvenation in humans, this will start to hammer a stake through the heart of the ageing process.’
Alzheimer’s Research UK said the studies were interesting but urged caution.
Director of research, Dr Eric Karran, said: ‘These studies are of unknown significance to humans.
‘This research does not investigate the type of cognitive impairment seen in Alzheimer’s disease, which is not an inevitable consequence of ageing.
‘Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia and we urgently need treatments capable of stopping the disease in its tracks.’
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