The quest for age-defying beauty treks into furry territory
Dracula may have been onto something when he decided to start sucking the blood out of his younger victims. It’s a common fantasy trope: take the blood of the youth to preserve your own, forever.
It’s a little gory and not exactly eternal youth, but a study published by the Stanford University School of Medicine earlier this month found that injecting older mice with the blood of younger mice reversed some signs of aging.
According to the study, injecting the blood of young mice rejuvenated the brains and muscle tissues of older mice.
This experiment has only gone as far as testing on rodents, but there are lots of possibilities of how this could work on humans.
PhD at Harvard Stem Cell Institute Amy Wagers — as well as one of the senior authors of one of the studies published in the journal “Science” — explained this exciting breakthrough.
“It’s really exciting,” Wagers said. “It says there’s a coordination of signals through the blood system that’s affecting aging in many different organs.”
If this research can transfer over to humans, there could be breakthroughs in the treatment of cardiac disease, neurodegeneration and muscular atrophy.
The study focuses on GDF11, a protein which, in its mature form, is identical in both mice and humans.
“By boosting the levels of GDF11, we could, in mice, see a restoration of the ability of muscle to repair itself after injury,” Wagers said.
Higher levels of GDF11 improved the system of blood vessels in the brains of older mice, leading researchers to believe that increasing blood flow increases neutral activity, function and formation of new neurons.
There have been previous studies where younger mice were surgically joined to the same circulatory system as older mice and got similar results, but the injection method works almost as well and is a lot less gruesome. However, being surgically attached still worked out better for the older mice, leading researchers to believe that the secret to reversing aging lies in more than just the protein GDF11.
In another study, Stanford researchers joined pairs of old and young mice to the same blood supply. But this time, they looked for changes in the hippocampus of old mice.
The hippocampus plays an important role in memory and is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, a disease that is the result of degeneration and atrophy in the hippocampus. Results showed that the blood supply of younger mice had a positive effect on the hippocampi of older mice.
“It was as if these old brains were recharged by young blood,” said Tony Wyss-Coray, neurology professor at Stanford University School of Medicine and another senior author of the same study.
So far, the trials run on mice seem to have gone smoothly with mostly positive results; however researchers need more time and information before they start running human trials.
Wagers said she and her colleagues are looking more into how GDF11 affects humans. They want to be able to answer questions about whether or not people are born with a finite amount of GDF11, whether or not GDF11 production peaks before it declines and why GDF11 declines with age.
There have been no side effects observed in Wagers’ study, but it remains to be seen how humans would respond to the treatment.
While the development of such treatments could solve problems like neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s, people could use this treatment for other purposes, like an attempt at immortality or the preservation of beauty.
It could solve a lot of complications, but there is the possibility of it being used for more superficial purposes. There are already beauty products that market themselves as being able to preserve beauty and the addition of a more thorough product with science-backed results could be unfavorable.
Anthropology senior Annie Pham said the extent to which some go to for beauty is not her problem.
“Beauty products are beauty products, and I’m very much a ‘to each his own’ type of person,” Pham said. “However, mice and humans are different, so while it may produce positive effects in mice with no adverse reactions, the same might not be so for humans.”
This makes one wonder to what some may sacrifice in the name of beauty.
Moreover, the sacrifice of looking younger may lead to health issues. Principal investigator at the Berkeley Stem Cell Center Irina Conboy warns that GDF11 and similar proteins have been associated with the growth of tumors and metastasis.
It sounds like a fairy tale again. The aging process can be stopped and some youth can be regained, but it comes with a price.
Accounting senior Kevin Le said he does not personally see the merit in such focus on appearance, but does not condemn those who do.
“I personally don’t believe so much emphasis should be placed on appearance. But if people care enough and wanted to look younger, I say more power to them,” Le said. “I don’t care what people do as long as it only affects them and not others.”
It makes one wonder about the futility of life. These treatments could reverse the aging process, but it is uncertain for how long. In the end, death seems like the only certain thing, in spite of the existence of a fountain of youth.
For those who see this discovery as a chance to reduce wrinkles and stop Father Time, just don’t start asking younger siblings or friends if they can donate their blood in the name of beauty any time soon.
Opinion columnist Julie Nguyen is a communications junior and may be reached at [email protected]