Does young blood work?

28 November 2017

Interview with 

Michael Conboy, University of California, Berkeley

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Can blood really rejuvenate you? The story starts a few years ago when scientists, including Irina and Michael Conboy from the University of California Berkeley, continuously switched the blood of young and old mice to see what happened. This is a process called parabiosis, and they found something interesting – the old mouse seemed to get rejuvenated and the young mouse started to have a problem. Was there something good in young blood, bad in old, or was this a fluke result and did this even apply to humans? Scientists are busy trying to identify what’s really going on here, but before we’ve got a clear picture - this vampiric idea has already bitten. In fact, there’s a company in America selling young blood plasma, as part of an ageing trial, for 8000 dollars. Georgia Mills asked Michael Conboy what he thought of this development.

Michael - There a couple of reasons why I would be cautious about that. One is that we didn’t see much of a benefit to the brain in any way with one mega transfusion of young blood - whole blood. I’m not aware of anybody who’s seen an improvement to an old person or any old animal by young blood - it might just be that they haven’t studied it yet.

This company that is giving the infusions of young plasma, which is the non-cell part of the blood - it’s like liquid juice part not the part that doesn’t have the cells in it - is basing that idea on something that was published by a group where they dosed old mice with small amounts of young plasma, several doses over a week or ten days or something like that, and saw improvement in the cognition of the mice in this maze.

This company that’s giving people, for a fee, doses of purportedly young plasma. Not treating any particular disease but just as an anti-ageing treatment or something like that. I'm not 100% sure that infusions of young plasma are going to help anyone until I see that being reproduced. Till I see other groups doing those experiments and seeing what the results are.

On one hand, I’m not 100% sure that the treatment will be effective, and on the other hand there’s always a risk of getting some sort of complication when you’re getting any tissue donation from someone who’s not you. There’s risk there, and these are risks of having some sort of reaction between maybe some proteins in the donor blood. These types of things can cause organ failure, they can cause autoimmune diseases, and would definitely not be rejuvenated.

Georgia - Does blood have to go through the same rulings as all other drugs that are being used in America?

Michael - Blood is largely unregulated. There are guidelines that you have to follow for collecting it and storing it, transporting it and labelling it, that kind of thing, but it doesn’t have to go through an FDA approval.

Georgia - That’s very surprising. I suppose if someone comes to you and says: here, I’ve got some elixir of life - it’s blood. You know be careful, I suppose?

Michael - Yeah. If I was in an accident and I was bleeding out and dying and a doctor said we’re going to have to give you a couple of units of blood otherwise you’ll die. I would say: for sure. But not just on the offshoot that it might make me feel younger and especially since I don’t think it works. I’m not convinced it works yet.

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