Scientists in search of blood rejuvenation

This discovery could have many scientific applications (Photographer: Wellcome Images)

by Charlotte Gehrke

A team of scientist at the University of Ulm in Germany, led my Professor Hartmut Geiger, found that a protein named osteopontin can make older people’s blood stem cells appear to perform as younger ones would.

Professor Geiger’s team conducted a number of experiments on rats of various ages, the results of which may be replicable on human beings.

In the experiments, an older rat was sown together with a younger one in order to create a shared circulatory system between the two of individuals. While the younger rats’ health suffered, the older rats displayed improvements from their previous condition. The results of this experiment have been replicated with other animals of varying ages since, showing consonant outcomes.

Similarly, rats injected with human teenagers’ blood exhibited improvements in “memory, cognition, and physical activity”. Correspondingly, a study investigated the injection of Alzheimer’s patients with teenage blood after also having observed improvements in the condition of older rats injected with younger blood.

However, the stitching together of rats (or other test subjects) creating a shared circulatory system is not a new practice in this field of research (see for example the report by Clive M. McCay, Frank Pope and Wanda Lunsford of Cornell University on Experimental Prolongation of the Life Span, presented at The New York Academy of Medicine in 1955). Yet, in the past, the majority of research on the rejuvenation of cells through injections of ‘younger’ blood has been concentrated on plasma, rather than focusing on the cells, as Professor Geiger suggests, since “they are better able to move into the body’s tissue”.

Yet, the number of human being’s red and white blood cells decreases with age due to the deterioration of so-called mother stem cells in a person’s bone marrow. The latter create the red and white blood cells, therefore the decline of mother stem cells decreases the overall production of blood cells. According to the team’s head scientist Dr. Hartmut Geiger, this has the effect that “usually the immune system in the elderly is not prepared to fight infections very hard”.

The team of scientists at the University of Ulm is currently working on the development of a drug that “should boost the immune system of elderly people”, says Geiger, using an activating protein and the previously mentioned protein osteopontin in an attempt to make blood cells to act ‘young’.

The scientists at the University of Ulm are optimistic that such a drug would boost patients’ levels of mother stem cells possibly preventing or fighting heart diseases, infections, myelodysplasias and anaemia.

Nevertheless, with the focus on blood and in experiments such as the ones previously described primarily using young people’s blood, the problem of the blood’s relative scarcity arises with scientists reliant on blood donations. Therefore, studies such as these call for young people to ignore thoughts of Dr. Frankenstein that might come to mind when hearing of mice being sutured together and instead support scientific advances in the field of blood rejuvenation by donating blood.

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