It sounds more like science fiction than real world science, but researchers at Stanford University announced the first results of a novel study in which they infused blood from young donors into a small number of people with mild to moderate forms of Alzheimer’s disease in the hopes of improving the disease’s symptoms.
The study, presented at the Clinical Trial on Alzheimer’s Disease conference in Boston on Saturday, isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. Stanford scientists have pioneered a process called parabiosis, in which young and old mice are connected with the same blood system. In the first studies, they were surprised to see that the young mice started showing signs of older metabolism, and chronic diseases. The next studies, in which the older mice not only were connected to the young mice by blood, but also given infusions of the young blood, were even more eye-opening. The older mice started to show improvement in their memory, namely their ability to perform mazes and find a specific target after a period of time.
That inspired another group of researchers at Stanford to see whether the same brain changes might be seen in people, and specifically in people with the early stages of Alzheimer’s, which affects memory.
They recruited nine volunteers, and asked them to come in to the labs every week for four weeks for a unit of plasma from a young person, which they obtained from the Stanford blood bank, or a placebo solution. Then the people were left alone for six weeks, and then switched to the young plasma or placebo for four weeks, whichever they hadn’t received in the first period. Another group of nine volunteers recruited later only received the young plasma for four weeks.