Blood and its properties: an important field of discovery in medicine

Giving blood/Shutterstock Images

New research suggests that injections of young blood in particular have the potential to repair our ageing brains, according to the Daily Mail´s health writer, Dr Michael Mosley.

Although it is controversial, there is mounting evidence of the benefits that come from being infused with blood from young people. Blood transfusions from healthy donors have saved millions of lives since the first transfusion in Philadelphia in 1795.

Studies with mice have shown that if you infuse an old mouse with blood taken from a young mouse, this makes their bodies stronger and their brains younger: they run for longer on a treadmill, do better in mazes and are able to remember their way to food much faster than they could before the blood transfusion.

Tech billionaires in the U.S. have leapt on these findings and have been funding research into what it is about young blood that’s producing these changes.

The Blood Transfusion Market is expanding in the US and will be worth €7.25 billion in 2024 due to various technological advancements. One of the emerging areas of research is the use of stem cell technology to develop lab-grown blood cells for human transfusion.

Blood that has been grown in a laboratory has been put into people in a world-first clinical trial in the UK in November, with study results yet to be published.

In one person´s experience, Terri, a 63-year-old Californian with Parkinson’s disease took part in a trial, run by Stanford University, where Parkinson’s patients had twice weekly transfusions of plasma (the liquid part of your blood) donated by young volunteers, i.e., under 30 years old.

It was only a small study (with 15 participants), run over eight weeks, to see if doing regular transfusions is safe enough to justify a bigger trial, but even so it led to improvements in speech and a boost in mental health.

Terri said: ‘I felt more energised afterwards. I felt more normal, back to myself. Not the Parkinson’s self, but my old self. So that, to me, was wonderful.’

The preferred donors in these trials are often men under 30, because their stem cells (master cells that can turn into a range of other cells) are more potent – and when it comes to things like bone marrow transplant this can lead to better clinical outcomes.

Giving regular transfusions of young blood to older people is clearly not going to be practical, let alone ethical. So, the search is on to identify and replicate the beneficial components without needing to use actual blood.

There is lots of promising research on the way, according to Mosley, to mimic the effects of young blood in older brains, without having a draw a drop from humans.

A few weeks ago, according to the Daily Mail, researchers at Harvard University took a big step forward—revealing they’d identified many of the key genes that get switched on, or off, after a plasma transfusion.

The genes they identified are important for regulating stress, injury and inflammation, particularly in the brain, so it looks like the benefits of the transfusions come from altering these genes.

Another study, published in February by U.S. scientists, showed that when mice are given an inflammatory drug, commonly given to people with arthritis, this helps regenerate their blood-producing cells.

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