IT SOUNDS like the dark plot of a vampire movie. In October, people with Alzheimer’s disease will be injected with the blood of young people in the hope that it will reverse some of the damage caused by the condition.
The scientists behind the experiment have evidence on their side. Work in animals has shown that a transfusion of young mouse blood can improve cognition and the health of several organs in older mice. It could even make those animals look younger. The ramifications for the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries could be huge if the same thing happens in people.
Disregarding vampire legends, the idea of refreshing old blood with new harks back to the 1950s, when Clive McCay of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, stitched together the circulatory systems of an old and young mouse â€“ a technique called heterochronic parabiosis. He found that the cartilage of the old mice soon appeared younger than would be expected.
It wasn’t until recently, however, that the mechanisms behind this experiment were more clearly understood. In 2005, Thomas Rando at Stanford University in California and his team found that young blood returned the liver and skeletal stem cells of old mice to a more youthful state during heterochronic parabiosis. The old mice were also able to repair injured muscles as well as young mice
Spooky things seemed to happen in the opposite direction, too: young mice that received old blood appeared to age prematurely. In some cases, injured muscles did not heal as fast as would be expected.