Horror movies and books have portrayed the harvesting and transplanting of blood and organs from the youthful to the aged as a means of increasing longevity.
Unimaginably, this grisly concept is given some credence by modern science. As a result, one opportunist offered young blood to the wealthy at $8,000 a liter before being shut down by regulators.
Fortunately, the science shows there’s a safer and far less gruesome way to use youthful cells and body fluids to tap into a longer lifespan.
A team at Stanford University has published several studies showing young blood from either mice or humans has a rejuvenating effect when injected or transfused into old mice, boosting their learning and memory capabilities.
Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray led the research and explained, saying, “There seems to be something in young human blood that is not in old human blood that can reactivate and rejuvenate these old brains and make mice smarter again. To me it’s remarkable that something in your blood can influence the way you think.”
Now he wanted to see if there’s something in other important body fluids, such as cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), that can do the same.
Recall, Memory Strengthened
CSF surrounds the brain and spinal cord and is steeped in nutrients, signaling molecules and growth factors that nourish brain cells. Since rejuvenating factors in blood might be impeded by the blood brain barrier, Dr. Wyss-Coray turned his attention to the CSF to see if any youth-promoting golden nuggets could be found there.
His research team began by conditioning old mice to associate a flashing light and tone with small electric shocks to the feet. The mice were then split into two groups.
Over seven days researchers infused one group with a steady drip of artificial CSF while they infused the other group with CSF from young mice.
Three weeks later researchers tested the mice’s memories by exposing them to the light and tone cues they’d received a month earlier. Elderly mice with CSF from youngsters froze for longer, demonstrating stronger fear memory for the earlier foot shocks.
The next step was to find out why CSF from youthful animals preserves memory.
The Importance of Fibroblast Growth Factor 17
The scientists carried out an in-depth genetic study of the hippocampus, a key memory area of the brain. They discovered that precursors to oligodendrocytes were affected. Oligodendrocytes produce the myelin sheath that insulates nerve fibers and ensures efficient and speedy signaling between neurons. This sheath is damaged in people with multiple sclerosis.
The scientists next mission was to investigate which factor in CSF began the process that led to improved nerve insulation. They found serum response factor (SRF), a protein that decreases with age.
Then they needed to find what activated SRF. Their research revealed the answer: fibroblast growth factor 17 (FGF17). Infusing this protein into older CSF partially replicated the effects of young CSF fluid, improving the memory of elderly mice, whereas blocking the factor impaired cognition in young mice.
The scientists’ paper, published in the journal Nature in May, concluded by saying, “Combined, our results suggest that targeting hippocampal myelination through factors present in young CSF might be a therapeutic strategy to prevent or rescue cognitive decline associated with ageing and neurodegenerative diseases.”
Much more intensive research is needed of course, but Dr. Wyss-Coray believes their study shows the aging process is “malleable.” He believes focusing on the environment of brain cells rather than the cells themselves could be a better approach to supporting more youthful function of the brain and body as we age.
- The Sunday Telegraph 15th May 2022