'Young' blood reverses ageing in mice
TWO teams of scientists published studies on Sunday showing that blood from young mice reverses ageing in old mice, rejuvenating their muscles and brains.
As ghoulish as the research may sound, experts said that it could lead to treatments for disorders like Alzheimer's disease and heart disease.
"I am extremely excited," said Rudolph Tanzi, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the research. "These findings could be a game changer."
The research builds on centuries of speculation that the blood of young people contains substances that might rejuvenate older adults.
In the 1950s, Clive McCay of Cornell University and his colleagues tested the notion by delivering the blood of young rats into old ones.
To do so, they joined rats in pairs by stitching together the skin on their flanks. After this procedure, called parabiosis, blood vessels grew and joined the rats' circulatory systems. The blood from the young rat flowed into the old one, and vice versa.
Later, Dr McCay and his colleagues performed necropsies and found that the cartilage of the old rats looked more youthful than it would have otherwise. But the scientists could not say how the transformations happened. There was not enough known at the time about how the body rejuvenates itself.
It later became clear that stem cells are essential for keeping tissues vital. When tissues are damaged, stem cells move in and produce new cells to replace the dying ones. As people get older, their stem cells gradually falter.
In the early 2000s, scientists realised that stem cells were not dying off in ageing tissues.
"There were plenty of stem cells there," recalled Thomas Rando, a professor of neurology at Stanford University School of Medicine. "They just don't get the right signals."
Prof Rando and his colleagues wondered what signals the old stem cells would receive if they were bathed in young blood. To find out, they revived Dr McCay's experiments.
The experiment indicated that there were compounds in the blood of the young mice that could awaken old stem cells and rejuvenate ageing tissue. Likewise, the blood of the old mice had compounds that dampened the resilience of the young mice.
To pinpoint the molecules responsible for the change, researchers screened the animals' blood and found that a protein called GDF11 was abundant in young mice and scarce in old ones.
But scientists would need to take care in rejuvenating old body parts. Waking up stem cells might lead to their multiplying uncontrollably.