Bioethics Blogs

Aging Research: Plasma Protein Revitalizes the Brain

For centuries, people have yearned for an elixir capable of restoring youth to their aging bodies and minds. It sounds like pure fantasy, but, in recent years, researchers have shown that the blood of young mice can exert a regenerative effect when transfused into older animals. Now, one of the NIH-funded teams that brought us those exciting findings has taken an early step toward extending them to humans.

In their latest work published in Nature, the researchers showed that blood plasma collected from the umbilical cords of newborn infants possesses some impressive rejuvenating effects [1]. When the human plasma was infused into the bloodstream of old mice, it produced marked improvements in learning and memory. Additional experiments traced many of those cognitive benefits to a specific protein called TIMP2—an unexpected discovery that could pave the way for the development of brain-boosting drugs to slow the effects of aging.

When babies are born, a teaspoon or so of blood plasma remains in their umbilical cords that often gets discarded as medical waste. For the team led by Joseph Castellano and Tony Wyss-Coray of Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, that youthful plasma seemed an obvious place to look for human proteins that might rejuvenate the aging brain.

At four-day intervals over the next two weeks, the team infused the human cord plasma into older mice. They wanted to see if it could revitalize the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in learning and memory, in much the same way that blood from young mice had done in previous experiments [2].

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