Youth is fleeting, and for centuries humans have been looking for ways to capture it, to hold onto it, and to stop or reverse the aging process. There have been countless comics, books, and movies in which the characters have pursued immortality or to return to their younger, more beautiful selves.
While the idea of injecting young blood into the veins of older people to help them reclaim their youth sounds like a storyline from a science fiction novel, it is a practice that is being studied and carried out in a few clinics in the United States.
Injecting Young Blood: the Key to Immortality?
In 2017, a San Francisco startup conducted a clinical trial in which they offered blood transfusions to over one hundred participants. The participants, whose median age was sixty, were injected with two and a half liters of plasma taken from younger people.
The procedure costs eight thousand dollars, and while it won’t give you immortality, the scientists behind the trials claim that it will rejuvenate you.
“It could help improve things such as appearance or diabetes or heart function or memory,” said 32-year-old Jesse Karmazin, a Stanford-trained scientist who founded the US clinic. “These are all the aspects of ageing that have a common cause,” .
The treatment is based on several studies from Stanford University which found that when researchers joined the circulatory system of old mice with that of young mice, the older animals experienced a rejuvenation of their organs, muscles, and stem cells, effectively “turning back the clock” on their bodies. This process is known as parabiosis .
These labs began identifying the components of young blood that are responsible for the changes they saw in the mice. Tony Wyss-Coray, a neurologist at Stanford University in California who also founded the US clinic, says that its rejuvenation.
“We are restarting the ageing clock.” 
Amy Wagers, a stem-cell researcher at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and colleague of Wyss-Coray, has identified a muscle-rejuvenating factor in young mouse blood. She is more reserved with her evaluation of the studies, emphasizing that they are not “de-aging” mice, but rather helping the animal to repair old, damaged tissue.
“We’re restoring function to tissues,” she said .
She also stressed that there is no convincing evidence that injecting young blood will lengthen your life, but it may help older people heal after surgery or prevent age-related diseases .
Both researchers have been very vocal in their opposition to Karmazin’s claims. Wyss-Coray condemned Karmazin’s trials, pointing out that his trial did not use a placebo control group and that some participants were as young as 35.
“There’s just no clinical evidence [that the treatment will be beneficial],” he said .
A Warning From the FDA
In 2019, the FDA released a statement to warn the public about several establishments in the United States that are selling “young blood” transfusions as a treatment for a variety of conditions associated with aging including dementia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and even post-traumatic stress disorder .
The statement continued, cautioning the public that these treatments have not been properly tested to confirm its therapeutic benefit and to ensure its safety. The statement emphasises that even for patients who are receiving blood transfusions for a recognized use, they do not come without risks, and since there is no compelling clinical evidence that this treatment is effective, the risk outweighs any potential benefit.
The FDA expressed their concern that some patients are being preyed upon, and are paying thousands of dollars for a potentially dangerous treatment that may not even work .
This announcement has appeared to have curtailed at least some of the clinics’ activities, and one establishment offering the treatment called Ambrosia announced on its website that they had ceased patient treatments in compliance with the FDA announcement .
The Risks Associated with Blood Transfusions
There are thousands of people every year who receive a blood transfusion, whether it be because of surgery, to treat a specific disease, after an injury, or for some other medical purpose.
While this procedure is meant to help patients, it is not without risk. Often patients who receive blood transfusions do not experience any negative symptoms, but minor or severe problems do sometimes occur.
According to The Red Cross, these are the most common complications associated with blood transfusions:
Allergic reactions. An allergic reaction can occur even when someone is given the right blood type. Symptoms of an allergic reaction could include itching and hives, and is usually treatable with antihistamines.
Fever. This is your body’s response to the white blood cells in the transfused blood. It is usually not serious, but it could be a sign of a more severe problem if the patient is also experiencing nausea or chest pain.
Acute immune hemolytic reaction. This is a rare but very serious reaction that occurs when a patient’s body attacks the transfused red blood cells. This triggers the release of a substance that damages the kidneys, and often occurs when the donor blood is not a proper match.
Blood-borne infections. While all donated blood is screened for potential viruses, bacteria, and parasites, these agents can still occasionally infect a patient. The risk of contracting a virus or any other blood-borne infection during a blood transfusion is very low .
Blood is in Short Supply
The other major issue with offering blood transfusions to the wealthy to help them prevent aging is that it takes blood away from those who are in medical need.
In 2018, the Red Cross issued a statement that they were experiencing a blood shortage, and asked Americans for help . A young person may then donate blood, thinking that they’re giving blood to those who need it, when in reality it’s being sold to a wealthy, relatively healthy person for thousands of dollars.
This poses several ethical questions, and puts greater stress on a medical system that is already in need.
The Bottom Line
The reality is, there is no definitive proof that injecting young blood into the veins of older people actually has any beneficial effects on their bodies or their minds, and considering the risks associated with receiving a blood transfusion, it is not worth it to pay thousands of dollars for a treatment that could do more harm than good.
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