The suggestion that young blood may be the key to reversing some of the negative aspects of aging sounds like the setup to a horror movie. In reality, however, it refers to some groundbreaking work being carried out by scientists at the University of Ulm in Germany.
They’ve been examining the ways that old blood can be made young again, and they hypothesize that it might help fight some of the effects of aging. To achieve this, they’ve discovered a protein capable of boosting blood stem cells, which prompts them to act like the stem cells of younger people.
“Older stem cells have several disadvantages,” Dr. Hartmut Geiger, co-author of a paper describing the work, told Digital Trends. “They result in fewer red blood cells, and fewer of an important immune cell that fights infection. They also tend to produce more leukemia, which is a cancer of the blood. All of this is linked, at least in part, to the aging of stem cells. If you have younger stem cells, we think that we can reverse some of these effects.”
Older stem cells tend to possess these negative characteristics thanks to the declining number of so-called “mother” stem cells in our bone marrow as we age. This decline triggers the effects Geiger describes.
In trials with mice, Geiger and his team discovered that older mice have lower levels of a protein called osteopontin. They decided to test the effect of this protein on blood stem cells.
“We took the stem cells from aged mice, incubated them with the osteopontin protein, and then gave them back,” he continued. “These blood stem cells, which had come from older animals, were found to have a lot of the features of stem cells coming from much younger animals in terms of function.”
It’s still early days for the research, but the suggestion that osteopontin could make stem cells behave in a more youthful way is certainly promising. The team is now developing a drug made up of osteopontin and a protein for activating it.
Hopefully human trials can follow in the not-too-distant future — while we’re still around to benefit from them.