Is 'Young Blood' the Fountain of Youth?


Can transfusing the blood of teenagers into older adults really help counter the effects of aging? Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto via Getty Images

If you looked at Angela Bassett in "Black Panther" and said to yourself, "She looks incredible! What is she doing, bathing in baby's blood?" Well, she isn't, but she could be — if she wanted to that is. Sort of. A California startup called Ambrosia offered human clinical trials where they injected the blood of teenagers and 20-somethings into older people to find out if it had any effect on aging. At a price. Each 1.5-liter transfusion cost $8,000 — to the study participant. Two-hundred people enrolled in the study, which was completed on Jan. 15, 2018. You can find the study's particulars on ClinicalTrials.gov.

This kind of medical technology has a lot of implications, both good and bad. And Stuff They Don't Want You To Know hosts Matt Frederick and Ben Bowlin take a deeper dive in a podcast episode they're calling The Modern Vampire: Longer Life Through Younger Blood.

The idea of using younger organs and blood to slow down or reverse the effects of aging has been around for decades. In the 1950s, in a Frankenstein-style process called parabiosis, scientists sewed the circulatory system of a young mouse to that of an old mouse. The study showed that the organs of the older mice became healthier, thanks to the presence of the younger blood.

Of 69 rodent pairs, 11 did die of "parabiotic disease," essentially a form of tissue rejection, but in the other pairs, the effects were noticeably positive — although only for the older mice. The young mice were, overall, unaffected, either negatively or positively (except for, you know, being sewn to their new counterparts). It seemed the closer the genetic relationship between subjects, the less likely parabiotic disease was to occur.

Later research also has found that aging is body-wide and affects all areas simultaneously, and that our blood is what coordinates aging throughout our bodies. So experiments began, again on mice, that showed how injecting young blood into older mice had positive effects on organs, bones, tissue — pretty much every system in the body. So if the technique works on mice, could it work on humans?

That's what Ambrosia has been investigating, albeit in a small clinical trial that didn't have a control group. They offered customers over the age of 35 injections of young plasma — the liquid component of blood that blood banks usually store — from donors ages 16 to 25. Each injection cost upward of $8,000; pretty steep, considering we don't know if it really works.

Stanford University's Tony Wyss-Coray criticized the study, mostly because of how Ambrosia charged participants and designed the study. Wyss-Coray led the 2014 anti-aging study that made great strides in aging research.

Wyss-Coray is working on a study with his company Alkahest to find out the effects of young blood on 18 people with Alzheimer's, at no charge to participants. And it's not really a surprise that private businesses would be interested in this stuff, too. The anti-aging industry is a $250 billion business in the U.S. alone.

So will we all be getting repeated infusions of young people's plasma? And would that technically make us vampires? Listen in to see what the guys have to say.


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