It might sound like something from Dracula, but old brains have been made sprightly again thanks to young blood.
Giving ageing mice blood from much younger animals rejuvenated connections between brain cells and improved memory, experiments have shown.
The treatment is so effective that 18-month-old animals did as well in memory tests as those of only four months. Mice usually live to between 18 months and two years.
If the treatment is shown to be safe and as successful in humans, it could be used to stave off the ravages of old age.
Those in middle-age could be given regular jabs of blood donated by 20-somethings, a conference heard. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s could also be held at bay. Researcher Saul Villeda told the Society for Neuroscience’s annual conference in New Orleans, ‘Do I think that giving young blood could have an effect on a human? I’m thinking more and more that it might. It’s not a drug that will have deleterious effects. It’s just blood. We do it all the time for blood transfusions.’
Scientists from Stanford University in the US ‘sewed together’ two mice of different ages.
They created connections between their veins and arteries that allowed young blood to flow into the older animal’s body, and vice versa. The younger animals’ brains appeared to age. But in the older animals, young blood boosted the number of connections between brain cells. The connections, which are thought to be vital to memory, were also stronger.
The older mice also did just as well as the younger ones in memory tests. The treatment is now being tested on mice with an Alzheimer’s-like disease. Experts said that if the research continues to bear fruit, it could lead to treatment that brings even greater benefits than penicillin.
Other work suggests an infusion of young blood could be good for the muscles, liver and immune system. However, the work is at an early stage and it will be some time before it is tested on humans.
It may be possible to identify the compounds in blood that are rejuvenating the brain and turn them into a pill.
Professor Andrew Randall, a brain disease expert from Exeter and Bristol Universities, said: ‘Although this may suggest that Dracula author Bram Stoker had ideas way ahead of his time, temporarily plumbing teenagers’ blood supplies into those of their great-grandparents does not seem a particularly feasible future therapy for cognitive decline in ageing.
‘Instead this fascinating work suggests there may be significant benefit in working out what the “good stuff” is in the high octane young blood, so that we can provide just those key components to the elderly.’
Professor Chris Mason, an expert in regenerative medicine from University College London, added: ‘The important questions are; what is in the blood of the younger mice that impacts the ageing process, and is it applicable to humans?
‘Even if the finding leads only to a drug that prevents, rather than reverses the normal effects of ageing on the brain, the impact upon future generation will be substantial – potentially outweighing other wonder drugs such as penicillin.’
Dr Villeda said, ‘Our findings open the possibility of utilising young blood towards future therapeutic interventions aimed at reversing cognitive impairments in the elderly.
‘It now becomes a promising prospect to test whether this extends beyond normal ageing towards reversing cellular and cognitive decline in those suffering from age-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.’
by David Livingstone