Would Countess Elizabeth Báthory and all her grisly successors be pleased by this newest scientific breakthrough? Would they say “I told you so”?
Years ago, Saul Villeda, a PhD student at Stanford University, took up a project that harkens back to the medical science of the Middle Ages. He wanted to answer, once and for all, the old hypothesis: whether the blood of the young can resurrect the old and frail.
Villeda conducted studies on pairs of surgically conjoined mice (we weren’t kidding about the word “grisly” up there). The old mice received blood from the young ones and vice versa. Then he waited to see what he would find.
New Scientist ? newscientist : Blood protein rejuvenates brain and muscle in old mice - will it work in hum… pic.twitter.com/u5nFf2t3BK— Auto (@autorssfeed) August 4, 2015
Usually, the neurons in aging brains lose their connections and begin to die off. But in the case of the old mice that were the subject of Villeda’s experiment, the brains had received a sudden cell growth in the hippocampus. Compared to the control, they had three to four times as many newborn neurons.
The growth of new neurons in the young mice, however, had stalled. They looked old before their time.
That was seven years ago, and research has continued. It’s important to check our enthusiasm, however, since the study has only been conducted on mice. No effect on human candidates has been proven yet.
That could, however, change. In October 2014, Stanford neurology professor Tony Wyss-Coray launched the first such human trial. Infusions of blood plasma from young donors are being given to elderly Alzheimer’s patients. We’ll know by the end of this year if the old myth is real after all.
But if it is, it won’t be cause for unqualified celebration. New questions of ethics will arise. The ability to stall or even reverse the impact of conditions such as Alzheimer’s would be truly wonderful.
Blood factor encouraged the growth of brain cells in old mice, and restored their sense of smell pic.twitter.com/rrEunVdse8— Saqib Masood (@SMasoodPk) May 8, 2014
But is natural aging something we should hope to stave off as long as possible? Would this technology’s wider application just contribute more to our admittedly insatiable lust for youth? Would it contribute more to the disparity in conditions of life between the wealthy and the poor?
All jokes aside: These questions are real, and not meant to sound anti-science. This could truly be a truly stunning discovery, and certainly the general trend in science over history has been toward lengthening lifespan. Could anyone alive today complain that/if they got to live past 60?
Nonetheless, science has to answer to ethics. With great power comes great responsibility. Something something Spiderman.