The idea that the blood of the young is a magical anti-aging elixir is one the most delightfully macabre themes in folklore and horror. Embodied by the real-life Hungarian countess and serial killer Elizabeth Bathory, who is rumored to have bathed in the blood of young virgins, the trope now encompasses countless vampiric characters who include youth-harvested blood in their health and beauty regimens. It has even been courted by modern day figures like entrepreneur Peter Thiel, who makes no bones about his desire to inject himself with the life-sustaining fluids of the young.
As it turns out, there might be something to the idea that young blood has rejuvenating powers, and fortunately, it is not quite so nefarious as its folkloric reputation would suggest. In a newly released lecture called "Young Blood for Old Brains," Stanford University neurology professor Tony Wyss-Coray delves into the years of research he and his colleagues have poured into the curious effects of blood-sharing between mice of different ages.
The entire talk, posted Thursday, is available in full. If you are squeamish, be warned: It does involve literally stitching two mice together, an experimental technique known as parabiosis."The way we do this typically is [...] we pair a three-month-old mouse, which is equivalent to about an 20-year-old human with an 18-month-old mouse, which is equivalent to about a 65-year-old person," Wyss-Coray explains in the lecture. "We leave them together for five weeks and then ask questions regarding molecular changes, subcellular changes, cellular changes, and so forth."
Admittedly, artificially conjoining two mice of different ages together seems like some unholy mixture of blood magic and mad science, and it should come as no surprise that parabiosis has been criticized by some animal rights activists for its cruel and harmful effects on test animals.
But though controversial, this experimental practice dates back 150 years, and has consistently suggested that old individuals experience health benefits from sharing blood and plasma with their younger parabiotic half. For instance, researchers have found that the brains of older mice show increased synaptic activity, neurogenesis, and plasticity, as a result of sharing a circulatory system with younger mice.
The underlying mechanisms that govern these effects remain unsolved, but several teams are working towards cracking the mystery and reproducing it in humans. As the co-director of Stanford's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and the associate director of the Center for Tissue Regeneration, Repair and Restoration, Wyss-Coray is especially interested in harnessing this hidden power of young blood to prevent neurological conditions associated with aging.
To that end, he has already begun to treat human subjects with Alzheimer's disease with plasma infusions sourced from younger people. The results from those trials are expected within the next few months, according to Science.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.