Scientists have been channeling Edward Cullen.
In the first “Harry Potter” book, Harry’s arch-nemesis Lord Voldemort resorts to drinking the blood of unicorns in order to keep himself alive. A recent study, however, found that a glass of blood straight from the jugular of a fresh-faced 18 year old might have worked just as well.
Brace yourself: Science has really been up to some wacky vampire shit this time.
Researchers at the California-based biopharmaceutical company Alkahest injected a bunch of aging mice with the blood of healthy 18-year-old humans over and over again for 3 weeks in a row.
The scientists then compared the behavior of the aging mice (who were a year old, or about 50 years old in human terms) with the behavior of other mice of all ages who hadn’t had any blood injections. They immediately noticed that the injected mice were more energetic — to a point where they seemed to have just as much energy as 3-month-old mice (or 23 years old in human terms).
Not only that, but when the scientists put the injected mice in a Barnes Maze (a contraption used to measure memory strength of rodents), the mice performed every bit as well as their younger counterparts. Typically, memory in older rodents is severely eroded, so this was a big deal.
What’s more, Alkahest’s researchers compared the brains of the injected mice to the brains of un-injected mice of the same age, they found that the rejuvenated mice had nearly double the rate of neurogenesis, the process by which brains create new neurons. So basically the brains of the old mice were working double-time after the injections of young human blood.
Karoly Nikolich, a neuroscientist and the founder of Alkahest, believes the key to this rejuvenating effect lies with proteins that are present in the blood of young people but that degrade as you get older.
In other words, injections of young human blood might be a type of Fountain of Youth, but less mythical and more legit.
You may be wondering how scientists started performing cross-species blood transfusions in the first place. Did a bumbling lab intern spill some human blood into a mouse’s water bottle? Nope — this bizarre experiment has its roots in an even more gruesome one: parabiosis, or the process of physically joining the cardiovascular systems of a young mouse with that of an old mouse (yeah, legit splicing their veins together — it’s deeply weird, I know).
Parabiotic splicing like this generally leaves the younger mouse dead, but it makes the older mouse stronger, smarter and healthier.
But before we let our imaginations run rampant with images of a dystopian future where old people are factory-farming young folks for their delicious youthful plasma, like in that terrible Ethan Hawke movie, “Daybreakers,” let’s take a deep breath. While this research is exciting, it’s important to note that this is only one study done by one company. So you should digest the findings with a gigantic grain of salt.
Nevertheless, Alkahest is forging ahead in recruiting participants for clinical trials with real humans. Which means they’re planning to inject old folks with blood from people my age. Like I said, very weird. But if they’re successful, the trials could help treat degenerative diseases in older people as well as give them a dose of lost youth. Imagine if at age 50 or 60 you could get a few shots in your arm and suddenly be as energetic as your 23-year-old self.
If only Voldemort had known — so many unicorns might have been spared.