Can Protein In Human Umbilical Cord Blood Improve Memory In Aging Mice?

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The provocative finding joins a flurry of other recent, sometimes controversial work attempting to find factors that explain the apparent antiaging properties of young blood.

But now neuroscientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have shown that - in mice - an infusion of plasma taken from human umbilical cords improves the hippocampus's functioning, resulting in significant gains in memory and cognition needed for tasks such as finding a vehicle in a full parking lot. This indicated enhanced activity in the mice's hippocampi, the memory and learning center of the brain.

"Here we show that human cord plasma treatment revitalizes the hippocampus and improves cognitive function in aged mice", they wrote in this week's report in Nature.

Identifying the responsible factors in such blood is a challenge, however.

There's also the nagging worry that, while proteins like TIMP2 may be beneficial for developing babies, they could be harmful in older humans. When injected into mice, the protein ramped up the activity of a group of genes that revitalised the hippocampus, and made it more able to adapt to new information.

"Neuroscientists have ignored it and are still ignoring it, but to me it's remarkable that something in your blood can influence the way you think", Tony Wyss-Coray, PhD, professor of neurology and neurological sciences and the study's senior author, said. Removing TIMP2 from the umbilical cord blood before injecting them into mice did not result in any discernible benefit. It's unclear how much this result would hold up in humans, but the team hopes this will be helpful for both academics and people working in the pharmaceutical industry, says study co-author Joseph Castellano, who researches neurology at Stanford. Wyss-Coray founded a company called Alkahest that, in collaboration with Stanford, is performing a phase I safety study of this process in 18 people with Alzheimer's disease, the results of which are now being analyzed. Those studies found that being exposed to young blood rejuvenated the organs and muscles of old mice. The company controversially charges participants $8,000 for the privilege of participating. It clearly remains to be seen if this kind of therapy will help treat problems like Alzheimer's or to "reverse aging", as some have put it.

Similarly, mice treated with human umbilical cord blood performed better on a second memory test.

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The study by Castellano and colleagues, he says, is an "excellent" starting point.

The researchers, however, voiced caution because most therapeutic approaches to disease that work in mice or other lab animals do not succeed in humans. His group found that young mouse blood harbors a variety of factors that protect older mice against aging (see May 2014 conference news; Jul 2015 news).

They placed the mice in a maze, which consisted of a table filled with holes that would either lead them to a snuggly den or a jarring fall (it wouldn't be enough to hurt them).

"In the current study, we have focused on age-related cognitive decline, but future studies will probe the extent to which TIMP2 might be beneficial in the context of more severe synaptic and neuronal dysfunction, for example, in Alzheimer's disease". This substance regulates other proteins responsible for chopping up still more proteins inside cells.

A new Stanford study revealed what many believe could be the first step to a true cure for aging. "There's a lot of complexity here to unravel", he says. "It's exciting for mice who have cognitive ageing, but it's way too early to start extrapolating that to say we can help humans,", she said.

That's why, right now, you can spend $8,000 on a not-at-all-creepy two litre transfusion of young blood.