Old blood made young again
Can we rejuvenate our blood to fight ageing, asks Jessica Hamzelou

BLOOD from the young seems cells called B and T lymphocytes. and a protein that activates it, that help maintain youth. But
to have healing powers, but how These declines can cause anaemia they began to produce white Geiger thinks the cells in blood
can we harness them without and weaken the immune system. blood cells just as young stem might play a key role, because
relying on donors? The discovery “Usually the immune system cells do. This suggests osteopontin they are better able to move into
of a protein that keeps blood in the elderly is not prepared to makes stem cells behave more the body’s tissues.
stem cells youthful might help. fight infections very hard,” says youthfully (EMBO Journal, doi.
The rejuvenating properties Hartmut Geiger at the University org/b4jp). “If we can translate this
of young blood came to light of Ulm in Germany. into a treatment, we can make old
Heart health
in macabre experiments that When Geiger’s team examined blood young again,” Geiger says. Both soluble factors and blood
stitched young and old mice the bone marrow in mice, they “It’s exciting,” says Hanadie cells are likely to be important,
together to share a circulatory found that older animals have Yousef at Stanford University says Yousef. While injections of
system. The health of the older much lower levels of a protein in California. But longer term young plasma rejuvenate older
mice improved, while that of the called osteopontin. To see if this studies are needed to see whether animals, the treatment doesn’t
younger ones deteriorated. Other protein has an effect on blood this approach can rejuvenate the have as strong an effect as when
animal studies have since shown stem cells, the team injected whole blood system, she says. young and old animals share
that injections of young or old stem cells into mice that lacked Until now, most efforts to use a circulatory system, she says.
blood have similar effects. osteopontin and found that the blood as a rejuvenation agent Geiger’s team is developing
This may work in people too. cells rapidly aged. have focused on plasma, the a drug containing osteopontin
Young blood is being trialled as But when older stem cells were liquid component, as some and the activating protein to
a treatment for conditions like mixed in a dish with osteopontin believe it carries dissolved factors encourage blood stem cells to
Alzheimer’s, and aged mice that behave more youthfully. “It
received injections of blood should boost the immune
from human teenagers showed system of elderly people,” he says.
improved cognition, memory Such a drug might have benefits
and physical activity levels. beyond fighting infection and
But these studies rely on young alleviating anaemia. The team
people donating their blood: if also think the protein will boost
this became the go-to therapy levels of mother stem cells.
Having only a small number of
“We think the drug will such cells has been linked to heart
improve signs of ageing disease, so Geiger says there is a
and boost the immune chance that boosting them may
systems of older people” help prevent this.
Osteopontin might also be
for age-related disease it would useful for treating age-linked
be difficult to get enough blood disorders, such as
donations to fulfil demand. myelodysplasias that involve
The stem cells in our blood dysfunctional cells, says Martin
could provide an alternative Pera of the Jackson Laboratory in
approach. Our red and white Bar Harbor, Maine. “It is possible
blood cells are made by stem that rejuvenating bone marrow
cells that themselves come stem cells could help with these

from “mother” stem cells in conditions,” he says.
bone marrow. But as we age, the “This study provides more
number of these mother stem evidence that cells can be
cells declines. One of the world’s rejuvenated,” says Ioakim
longest-lived women seemed to Spyridopoulos at Newcastle
only have two left in her blood University, UK. “They have
when she died at age 115. made old blood look young
The decline in mother stem again, although whether it acts
cells causes people to have fewer young or not will have to be
red blood cells, and white blood –Fresh young cells– shown in clinical trials.” n

8 | NewScientist | 25 March 2017