Old blood causes aging. Or does aging make blood get old? Whichever it is, we’re sure of one thing — old blood and aging go together. And changing one will cause a change in the other too. While this may seem logical or common sens, it isn’t exactly so. In fact, there’s evidence proving it too.
One of the earlier experiments done in relation to this involved blood swapping between young and old mice by surgically joining them together. This unquestionably showed that while the old mice benefited from the arrangement, the young mice got the raw end of the deal. Simply put, the old mice became healthier while the young mice seemed to have prematurely aged.
Taking off from this, a modified version of the experiment was done. This time, blood swapping was done through tubes. And although the results were similar, it gave rise to a new theory — that proteins in the blood seem to have a direct impact on aging. And adjusting the level of certain proteins might slow down the aging process. The question, though, is what proteins are we talking about exactly?
Hanadie Yousef from the Stanford University might just have found the answer. Or at least one of the answers, assuming there’s more than one kind of protein affecting the aging process.
The protein is called VCAM1 — short for Vascular Cell Adhesion Molecule 1. Apparently, as people age, the amount of VCAM1 in their blood increases. In particular, individuals aged 65 and above have 30% more of VCAM1 than individuals aged 25 and below.
To test the theory, Yousef took blood plasma from old mice and injected it into young mice. The results were as expected — the young mice exhibited signs of premature aging, even in their brain area which showed more inflammation and decreased production of new brain cells.
Yousef also tested human blood on the young mice, injecting them with blood plasma from individuals in their late 60s. Still, the results were the same — the brains of the young mice showed advanced signs of aging.
Now comes the interesting bit. In the next part of the experiment, Yousef injected the young mice with an antibody that blocks VCAM1, before she injected them with the old blood. The result was a pleasant surprise. With the VCAM1 blocker, the aging effect of the old blood seemed to have been neutralized. In other words, even with the addition of old blood into the young mice’s system, premature aging didn’t happen.
There’s even an added bonus. The antibody Yousef used was able to protect the brain of the mice. This is a major feat in itself because the majority of drugs are not able to get through the brain’s protective cell barrier. But Yousef’s patented compound doesn’t even need to get through this protective barrier because its target — VCAM1 — is in the cells of the barrier.
According to Yousef, blood transfusion, for whatever reason, is not something that can be taken lightly because nobody really wants someone else’s blood in their system unless it’s a life-or-death situation. On the other hand, a drug that can protect our organs, including our brain, is a more appealing option. And it will be cheaper and safer too because of its non-invasive nature. Which will practically make it a choice between medicine and blood transfusion. It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?
Yousef made her findings public at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego last year. Although many were impressed, there was also a prevailing thought that more tests need to be conducted before proceeding with human trials.
More tests there will be for sure. And hopefully, we’ll be hearing about more positive and progressive outcomes soon.