From Exclusive: Inside the clinic offering young blood to cure ageing | New Scientist
So it’s a bit odd that this is the epicentre of a phenomenon rocking Silicon Valley: young blood treatments. JR is one of about 100 people who have each paid $8000 to join a controversial trial, offering them infusions of blood plasma from donors aged between 16 and 25 in a bid to turn back the clock. Participants have come from much further afield, including Russia and Australia.
in 2014, a team led by Tony Wyss-Coray, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, injected middle-aged mice with plasma from young mice. Sure enough, after three weeks they had anatomical improvements in the brain and a cognitive boost, compared with mice given a placebo.
The plasma didn’t even need to come from the same species – old mice became just as sprightly when the injection came from young humans. “We saw these astounding effects,” Wyss-Coray told New Scientist in 2014. “The human blood had beneficial effects on every organ we’ve studied so far.”
Ambrosia is a start-up headquartered in Washington DC. The trial didn’t need regulatory approval because plasma is already a standard treatment to replace missing proteins in people with rare genetic diseases. And there’s no placebo arm to it. All you need to join is a date of birth that makes you over 35 – and a spare $8000.
For your money, you are infused with 2 litres of plasma left over from young people who have donated to blood centres (see “Blood myths”). Unlike the trials looking at young blood’s effects on specific diseases, Ambrosia has a softer target: the general malaise of being old. In addition to measuring changes in about 100 biomarkers in blood, the firm is also “looking for general improvements”, says Jesse Karmazin, who runs the start-up.
The methodology falls short of the normal standards of scientific rigour, so it’s unsurprising that scientists and ethicists have accused Karmazin’s team of taking advantage of public excitement around the idea.
The numbers were as unverifiable as they were impressive: one month after treatment, 70 participants saw reductions in blood factors associated with risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease, and reductions in cholesterol were on par with those from statin therapy.
Risks commonly associated with plasma transfusion include transfusion-related acute lung injury, which is fatal; transfusion-associated circulatory overload; and allergic reactions. Rare complications include catching an infectious disease: blood products carry a greater than 1 in a million chance of HIV transmission. That’s too risky for JR, who tells me that before every treatment he takes a dose of the HIV prophylactic PrEP.
There could be risks of developing autoimmune disorders. And some fear that pumping stimulating proteins into people for years could lead to cancer. “If you keep infusing blood, the risk of reactions goes up,” says Dobri Kiprov, an immunologist at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. “Many of these people are just eager to get younger – they don’t have a particular disease, so it’s not justified.”
It sounds dangerous and unproven, but there are multiple high profile startups researching this road:
Google’s life-extension biotech arm Calico, among others, she developed an experiment in which a pump ferried half the blood from one individual into another.
anti-ageing start-up Unity Biotechnology, which is backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s investment company. They are developing a blood-exchange device, a kind of dialysis machine for old age, which cycles your blood through a filter that washes a laundry list of harmful compounds out of the plasma before returning it to you. This would carry no immune effects or disease risks, because it’s your own blood. No regulatory approval is needed, because dialysis filters that remove proteins from plasma are already in use, for example to remove cholesterol in people with certain hereditary diseases.
They are also developing sensors to notify you when levels of bad biomarkers are getting too high – a decrepitude meter to tell you when it’s time for a decrepitude wash.
You may want to watch Tony Wyss-Coray TED Talk, too: How young blood might help reverse aging. Yes, really