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Whole Body Rejuvenation? Umbilical Cord Blood From Humans Helps Old Mice Remember

photo © Can Stock Photo / tolokonov

Studies that started decades ago showed that old rats tended to live longer if they were surgically connected and sharing a bloodstream with younger mice.  Since that time studies have shown that blood from younger rats can rejuvenate the cell activity in the livers and muscles of older mice.  A shared bloodstream even helped to reverse heart muscles that had thickened over time.

Now, a new report in the journal, Nature explores the effects that a protein found in human umbilical cord blood can have on learning and aging in mice.  The team found that a protein in human umbilical cord blood improved learning and memory in aging mice.

Joe Castellano is a neuroscientist at Stanford University School of Medicine and is on the team that reported the results of the umbilical cord blood study.  He says:

The really exciting thing about this study, and previous studies that have come before it, is that we’ve sort of tapped into previously unappreciated potential of our blood — our plasma — and what it can do for reversing the harmful effects of aging on the brain

Study Details

Castellano’s team collected blood plasma from people of various ages ranging from 20 years old to over 70 years old.  They also collected plasma from human umbilical cords.  They then injected the plasma from each source into mice that were 12 – 14 months old (the human equivalent age would be around 60 years old).   They subsequently dissected the mouse brains and found that a subset of genes linked to memory (making new memories) had been turned on in some of the mice.  That suggested that one group of the donated plasma was possibly responsible.

With that hint they did further studies on each subset of donated plasma and narrowed down the positive effects to the umbilical cord blood.

In talking about the “finding stuff” experiments that the mice was subjected to, Castellano says about about those that were injected with the cord blood:

their performance wasn’t very impressive. It took them a long time to learn and remember the location of the escape hole, and some of them didn’t manage at all. “But after cord plasma treatment, both the time [it took to] find it, the rate at which they’d find it and the fact that they do find it was improved and changing..”

Protein Details

Digging further, they discovered that a protein called TIMP2 was the one most likely responsible for the improvement in mice memories.  Removing TIMP2 from the umbilical cord blood before injecting them into mice did not result in any discernible benefit.

Possibilities in “Whole Body Rejuvenation”

This new study hints at potential solutions for age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s.  Aubrey de Grey is a biomedical gerontologist with the SENS Research Foundation and says:

The desired outcome is overall whole body rejuvenation,

He goes on to say that the new study by Castellano and his colleagues is an excellent starting point.  But then he cautions that its still mouse experiments that might not translate to humans.  In fact, he warns that human beings should not be starting to sprinkle TIMP2 protein on their food or sign up for umbilical cord blood transfusions.  In fact, some Alzheimer’s patients show increased levels of  TIMP2.

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