Skip to main content
Move the World.
Study: Blood Transfusions Can Slow Signs of Aging in Mice

Lead Image © Sapsan777 / Adobe Stock

A new study shows that blood transfusions from fit mice can slow or reverse signs of cognitive decline in sedentary mice. The key ingredient is a single protein that the liver produces in response to exercise.

If this sounds familiar, it may be because of the fad of "young blood therapy," which alleges that blood from young people can reverse aging. (The FDA says there is no proof of this, and the theory is widely considered pseudoscience.) 

But, while they both claim benefits from transfusions on the age-related decline, this new research (published in the journal Science on July 10) says that it isn't the age of the donor that matters, it is their fitness level.

Even though we can’t reverse time, there are things you can do about the age-related decline.

The first sign of cognitive decline in aging humans (and mice) is the loss of spatial memory — the ability to remember object locations, like where you placed your phone, or where the car is parked. 

Even though we can't reverse time, there are things you can do about the decline. Exercise is one of them. But vigorous exercise isn't an option for many elderly people, who lose bone density, muscle mass, and balance as they age.

Researchers at UC San Francisco, led by neuroscientist Saul Villeda, transfused blood plasma between two populations of aged mice: a sedentary group and an active group. The active mice enjoyed unlimited access to an exercise wheel, while the sedentary group did not have a wheel. 

At the end of a six-week period, the mice's cognitive abilities were put to the test, timing how quickly they could locate a platform in a pool of cloudy water. At first, the quick-minded, active mice found the platform in less time. But when the inactive mice were given a plasma transfusion from the active mice, they found the platform just as quickly. 

The researchers suspected that the liver might be involved because the organ is known to play a key role in regulating blood composition in response to exercise. 

After exercising, the active mice had higher levels of one key ingredient: a protein called GPLD1 which the liver secretes into the blood after exercise. 

To ensure that the boost in brain performance was, in fact, due to the GPLD1 protein, the researchers then genetically modified a group of mice so their livers would produce more of the protein, even without exercise. Even though those sedentary mice were denied the exercise wheel, they were able to find the hidden platform as fast as the mice that exercised.

Researchers don't yet understand exactly how the GPLD1 protein might improve brain function because the protein can't directly access the brain — it doesn't pass through the blood-brain barrier. So it must influence some other process or enzyme that does affect the brain, although their study did not identify it. 

But don't jump on the anti-aging transfusion bandwagon yet. Studies in mice don't always transfer to humans, and although there is some relationship between the liver protein and the brain, much more research is needed to understand that link. 

This work is one small step in the pursuit of treatments to slow or stop aging. But Villeda warns that there is no indication that future therapies arising from this work are going to somehow replace the need for exercise, which has many additional benefits, like weight loss or fitness. 

"We're really thinking about making the benefits into a therapeutic, but not replacing the benefit of exercise for those who can do it," he told STAT. "Those who can do it should do it.

Up Next

The Brain
Researchers Have Built a Mini-Lab for Mini-Brains
brain organoids
The Brain
Researchers Have Built a Mini-Lab for Mini-Brains
Researchers have created a “tiny machine” to better study brain organoids, clumps of stem cells that simulate the brain.

Researchers have created a “tiny machine” to better study brain organoids, clumps of stem cells that simulate the brain.

CRISPR
Scientists Use CRISPR to Create Neanderthal Mini-Brains in a Lab
neanderthal mini brains
CRISPR
Scientists Use CRISPR to Create Neanderthal Mini-Brains in a Lab
Scientists modified brain tissue from modern humans to carry a gene that once belonged to Neanderthals.

Scientists modified brain tissue from modern humans to carry a gene that once belonged to Neanderthals.

AR
Doctors Use AR Surgery to Implant 3D-Printed Eye Socket
AR surgery
AR
Doctors Use AR Surgery to Implant 3D-Printed Eye Socket
Doctors in Israel used a combination of AR surgery and 3D printing to repair a patient’s damaged eye socket quickly and efficiently.

Doctors in Israel used a combination of AR surgery and 3D printing to repair a patient’s damaged eye socket quickly and efficiently.

Artificial Intelligence
Smart Traffic Lights Ease Congestion on City Streets
smart Traffic Lights
Artificial Intelligence
Smart Traffic Lights Ease Congestion on City Streets
Smart traffic lights by startup NoTraffic use AI to improve the flow of traffic in cities, minimizing carbon emissions and delays for first responders.

Smart traffic lights by startup NoTraffic use AI to improve the flow of traffic in cities, minimizing carbon emissions and delays for first responders.

Future of Medicine
Reading Your Digital Signature to Detect Depression, Parkinson’s
Digital phenotyping mental health disorders
Future of Medicine
Reading Your Digital Signature to Detect Depression, Parkinson’s
Digital phenotyping uses our smartphones to detect anything from Parkinson's disease to mental health disorders.

Digital phenotyping uses our smartphones to detect anything from Parkinson's disease to mental health disorders.

Medical Innovation
Forget Needles - This Thin Strip May Improve Access to Vaccinations
vaccinations
Medical Innovation
Forget Needles - This Thin Strip May Improve Access to Vaccinations
Temperature stable vaccinations could change how we store and transport life-saving medicine to the places that need it most.

Temperature stable vaccinations could change how we store and transport life-saving medicine to the places that need it most.

Dispatches
Glowing Cancer Cells Could Find Hidden Tumors (And Replace Mammograms)
Glowing Cancer Cells Could Find Hidden Tumors (And Replace Mammograms)
Dispatches
Glowing Cancer Cells Could Find Hidden Tumors (And Replace Mammograms)
A new pill can make cancer cells glow under infrared light, and it could eliminate for mammograms.

A new pill can make cancer cells glow under infrared light, and it could eliminate for mammograms.

Coded
It’s Time for Regular Americans to Think Differently About Cybersecurity
It’s Time for Regular Americans to Think Differently About Cybersecurity
Coded
It’s Time for Regular Americans to Think Differently About Cybersecurity
If huge companies and government agencies can't manage the cyber threats, how can ordinary Americans?
By James Poulos

If huge companies and government agencies can't manage the cyber threats, how can ordinary Americans?

Science
What to Expect In a Post-Meat Future
What to Expect In a Post-Meat Future
Science
What to Expect In a Post-Meat Future
From advanced plant-based meat alternatives to real meat grown in a lab, the days of eating meat from once-living...
By Mike Riggs

From advanced plant-based meat alternatives to real meat grown in a lab, the days of eating meat from once-living animals could be numbered.