October 23, 2018

This startup wants to pump patients full of youthful blood—but what does the science say?

Daily Briefing

    A startup called Ambrosia Medical wants to infuse young, healthy blood into older patients in hopes of improving their health—but there's no clear evidence that the transfusions lead to health benefits, Erin Brodwin reports for Business Insider.

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    Jesse Karmazin, a graduate of Stanford Medical who founded Ambrosia Medical, believes older patients can experience health benefits if they receive blood from young, healthy patients. His hypothesis has not yet been proven by any clinical trial—though the company last year launched a trial that Karmazin said is showing "really positive" results.

    Karmazin said he got the idea as an intern at the National Institute on Aging. "Some patients got young blood and others got older blood, and I was able to do some statistics on it, and the results looked really awesome," Karmazin said. "And I thought, this is the kind of therapy that I'd want to be available to me."

    Since the basic technique of transfusing blood is already approved by the FDA, Ambrosia is able to operate as an off-label treatment. It doesn't need to show that its treatment carries a significant benefit before it can start offering it to customers, Brodwin writes.

    So far, the company has given transfusions to almost 150 patients, including the 81 who participated in the trial. For the trial, participants ages 35 to 92 were given 1.5 liters of plasma from donors between the ages of 16 and 25. The participants had a handful of biomarkers measured before and after the transfusion to determine any effects of the procedure.

    While the results haven't been published yet, Karmazin said the trial has also shown the procedure to be "essentially perfect, or as good as plasma transfusions are." Karmazin said "many" of the individuals who've received the treatment have seen a number of benefits, including better focus, memory, and sleep, as well as improved appearance and muscle tone.

    Karmazin plans to open the company's first clinic in New York City by the end of the year. The company has yet to set a price tag for the treatment, but study participants paid $8,000 to be a part of it.

    What does other research say about the benefits of 'young blood?'

    The research is unclear on whether injecting an older person with younger blood can produce health benefits, Brodwin reports.

    Tony Wyss-Coray, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, said, "There's just no clinical evidence [that the treatment will be beneficial], and you're basically abusing people's trust and the public excitement around this."

    There have been some studies done in mice regarding a similar process, Brodwin reports. A 2005 study examined the effects of parabiosis—a surgical technique that connects the veins of two living animals—on mice. Researchers at University of California at Berkeley found that parabiosis had some benefits for older mice that received the blood of younger mice, but because the animals also shared internal organs and a circulatory system, the researchers could not determine if the blood transfusions were the source of the benefits.

    In 2016, the researchers performed another study in which they simply exchanged blood between two mice. They found that older mice that received blood of younger mice experienced some benefits in their muscle tissue, but the researchers weren't certain whether that benefit resulted directly from the youthful blood or whether it was a consequence of the experiment's dilution of the older mice's blood.

    Ranveer Gathwala, co-author of the 2016 study and a stem-cell researcher at UC Berkeley, said, "The effects of young blood on old tissue seems to be rejuvenating; however, there is no concrete evidence that young blood is what is causing the change in results. It may very well be the dilution of old blood" (Brodwin, Business Insider, 9/24).

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