Can young blood be “youthifying”?
Following new research into IV transfusions, Victoria Lambert reports on how they’re being used to reverse the signs of ageing – and more
Those of a squeamish disposition may wish to look away now but the latest solution for avoiding the aches and pains of old age lies in imbibing young blood, say scientists.
According to Prof Linda Partridge, from UCL’s Institute of Healthy Ageing, treatments are being developed based around new research that blood harvested from the young can rejuvenate the old.
Certainly, as with many cutting-edge therapies, you can buy your way to young blood already. Ambrosia, a US start-up, offers teenage blood plasma to older customers, apparently including Silicon Valley billionaires, for the equivilent of R115,000 for 2½ litres. But can it work?
Yes, says Dr Amy Bibby, a doctor at Qured, a new GP home visit app.
“Young blood is thought to alleviate or even reverse the signs of ageing in older people because it has the ability to repair certain ailments by restoring cells, prompting them to multiply, and repairing broken tissue,” she says.
“This adheres particularly to muscle injuries and issues related to the liver and nervous system. The idea is based on the procedure parabiosis, which has been tested in mice and involves pairing the blood vessels of a young mouse with an old one; as the blood vessels from two open wounds merge, they begin to share a circulatory system, meaning that both of their blood pumps through each other’s bodies.
“The scientific explanations for this process are still unclear, but it is thought that humans could experience the same effects of transferring young blood into ageing bodies.”
Wayne Channon, a life sciences entrepreneur and chairman of Cells4Life, the UK’s largest cord blood stem cell bank, is excited at the news: “Young people have a different number of mitochondria [the part of the cell that provides it with power] than older people,” he explains.
“Moreover, as you age, your telomeres – the protective cap at the end of each strand of DNA – shorten. This makes your existing cells less efficient. By infusing your blood with fresh nutrients, your cells will operate more efficiently.”
Nor does Channon think we should stop at simple blood transfusions: “The next level is growing stem cells in a petri dish from umbilical cord tissue and adding these, or even just the plasma.”
These would be full of hormones, growth factors and cytokines – proteins that improve cell communication. “You don’t need to put all the blood cells in, just the proteins themselves. An infusion of these can reboot the system.”
Indeed, Harvard biologists recently announced they were examining whether a blood protein called GDF11 could replicate the beneficial effects of blood without requiring a full transfusion.
Moreover, says Channon, science could move from donated blood to using stem cells from umbilical cords, removing the need to match blood types or screen any blood used for communicable diseases such as hepatitis or HIV.
He points out that the Stem Cell Institute in Panama is already offering plasma derived from stem cells.
“They call it ‘magic juice’ there,” he says. “But the science is very respectable.”
The most high-profile recipient so far is Hutton Gibson – father of actor Mel – who was treated in Panama after kidney failure in 2007.
Mel Gibson said of the therapy afterwards: “It was like he got a new lease of life. It fixed all his inflammation and pain and he started walking again. “In his heart, he had a prolapsed valve that healed, and his cognitive powers improved, his eyesight improved.”
Hutton Gibson turned 100 in August.
Of course, the beauty industry has been offering the benefits of fresh blood for some time in the form of the vampire, or Platelet-Rich-Plasma (PRP), facial.
“PRP contains high levels of platelets, which are rich in human growth factors,” explains Dr Dirk Kremer of Harley Street Aesthetics. “Growth factors are essential to reverse ageing.”
The procedure involves withdrawing your own blood and processing it in a centrifuge before the platelets can be separated. The plasma is then injected many times into areas of your face with a microneedle.
“As your skin is healing, the growth factors – in a higher concentration than would normally be found – induce new and extra collagen, new cells and increased normal vascularity of the skin,” says Kremer, of the treatment first made famous by Kim Kardashian.
However, it’s vital to go to a reputable clinic: authorities in the US recently issued a warning to patients of one clinic offering PRP to be tested for HIV and hepatitis B, after concerns over needle hygiene.
And if needles don’t appeal? Dr Bibby says we can also eat our way to younger blood.
“Foods rich in iron help maintain a healthy level of red blood cells,” she says.
These include beef, kidney and liver, plus spinach, kale, beans and legumes.
So how soon might plasma therapy be available to all?
“There’s no ethical reason for it not to happen, not as long as any blood or umbilical cord is donated,” says Channon.
“And it would be inexpensive. The logistics of getting enough blood from donors and unwanted umbilical cords would need to be considered. And first we do need to see a proper clinical trial showing the benefits. It’s all anecdotal at the moment.
“This is not about living forever but about a better quality of life. You might get a month’s benefit from a treatment – that’s four weeks of feeling sprightlier and out of pain.”
The anti-ageing IVs
Stars including Jennifer Aniston and Boris Becker are among those who reportedly have tried intravenous vitamin infusions, which are touted as anti-ageing and energising.
“Intravenous nutrition – or IV therapy – is a method of feeding vitamins and minerals directly into the bloodstream,” says Geeta Sidhu-Robb, founder of the Nosh Infusion Clinic in London. “Bypassing the digestive system can mean higher levels of absorption and many clients feel results within minutes.”
Geeta says the drips are used to correct vitamin imbalances, increase energy and help the body withstand the stresses of modern life such as poor diet or lack of sleep.
Dietitian Helen Bond advises caution: “Vitamins and minerals are essential to good health. But IVs are no substitute for good diet, which should be addressed first.”
Bond also says vitamins can be too much of a good thing: “Worst case, large amounts of vitamin A can cause liver damage. Best case, the costly excess vitamins will simply be excreted in urine.
“More so, injecting into the blood-stream comes with risk of allergic reaction and infection, so always go to a qualified professional and speak to your GP first.” – The Daily Telegraph