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Young blood transfusions could ease dementia symptoms

Dementia patients injected with the blood of young people were better able to cope with their daily lives.

Carers said the 18 patients who were given the transfusion of young blood were able to perform daily tasks – such as preparing food or travelling.

However their ‘mood or global cognition’ was not changed.

The Stanford University research team described the extraordinary treatment as ‘safe, well-tolerated and feasible.’

The results warranted ‘further exploration’ although it was too early to say if they offer long-term hope.

It forms part of a wave of studies and trials, including a set of human trials backed by Peter Thiel at a San Francisco start-up called Ambrosia, injecting older adults with young blood – something that would cost $8,000 if it were rolled out to the public.

In the Stanford study 18 people with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s received either four weekly jabs of young fresh frozen plasma (yFFP) from male donors aged 18 to 25 or a placebo

For the new study, published today in JAMA Neurology, 18 people with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s disease received either four weekly jabs of young fresh frozen plasma (yFFP) from male donors aged 18 to 25 or a placebo.

The patients were aged 50 to 90 and the trial ran from September 2014 to December 2016. 

‘The efficacy of yFFP in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease could not be determined because of the small sample size, a change in the design of the study, and the short duration of treatment,’ Dr Sha said.

‘Therefore, assessments of cognition, mood, functional ability, and default mode network changes were exploratory.

‘Analyses of these measures did not find that infusions of yFFP altered mood, global cognition, or functional connectivity.

‘However, improvements in functional abilities were reported by caregivers.

‘These findings could be further explored with a larger study that is powered to determine clinical and statistical significance.’

The PLASMA (Plasma for Alzheimer Symptom Amelioration) study randomized patients to receive the regular 250mL infusions of blood and then saline, with a six-week period in between. 

Afterwards MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans were used to any changes monitor their brain activity.

Corresponding author Clinical Associate Professor Dr Sharon Sha, a neurologist at Stanford University, said the technique has the potential to do much more, given that previous studies showed restored memory in mice.

Larger studies will be needed to show if there are real benefits to humans now her team has established there are no significant side effects. 

Dr Sha said: ‘There were no related serious adverse events. The yFFP treatment was safe, well-tolerated and feasible.’

The idea of injecting blood to combat the effects of ageing comes from a 19th-century concept that’s now referred to as parabiosis.

In its earliest incarnation the skin of old and young mice was stitched together to allow blood to circulate freely between the two animals.

In recent years the technique has been demonstrated to revitalize the liver, brain and muscles of older rodents.

In fact, a leading geneticist at University College London insists those experiments are no joke, and are seriously considered by leading physicians to be one of the most promising ventures in modern medicine.

Publishing an analysis of data in the journal Nature, Dame Linda Partridge, a geneticist, says research shows young blood could allow humans to live a life free of diseases like cancer, dementia and heart disease, right up until their deaths. 

Professor Partridge’s study showed older mice given young blood did not develop age-related diseases and maintained sharp cognitive function, while younger ones given older blood saw the opposite effect.  

It’s proof, she says, that blood needs to be more closely studied in animals to identify the molecules that conserve physical health. 

‘Identification of these is a high priority for research,’ the study says.

‘The practical accessibility of both the human microbiome and blood system makes therapeutic manipulation a particularly attractive approach, but research in animals is needed to establish the long-term consequences and possible side effects.’

Dr Sha and colleagues have been funded by US technology company Alkahest.

Further trials are set to be carried out to determine whether or not the treatment is at all viable.

Another study will take this a step further and only use the part of blood plasma that contains growth factors, which has proven to be more effective in animal testing.

There are also early plans to test a larger number of Alzheimer’s sufferers, including people with a more severe form of the condition, with a variety of different dosages.

Dr Sha said: ‘Studies using young plasma have demonstrated improved memory and synaptic plasticity in aged mice, suggesting a possible therapeutic role of young plasma for treating memory impairment in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.’

She added: ‘The results from this study using yFFP in patients with Alzheimer’s disease demonstrate treatment is safe and warrants further exploration in larger double-blinded clinical trials that use measures designed to detect change within the treatment time-frame and are powered to determine efficacy.

‘There is no known disease-modifying therapy, making drug discovery an area of unmet medical need.

‘The increasing number of patients with Alzheimer’s disease warrants a pursuit of treatments that can improve or maintain cognitive function.’


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