The idea of using youthful blood to reverse the effects of aging is a concept that has been explored in dystopian science fiction for years. However, a recent study has found that this idea may not be as far-fetched as once thought. Researchers from Columbia University, Cambridge and UC San Francisco have discovered that an existing arthritis drug, anakinra, can effectively mimic the benefits of youthful blood transfusions.
The study was inspired by previous research that showed that infusions of youthful blood into elderly mice improved cognitive abilities, increased lifespan and delayed disease. However, these benefits were only temporary, treating only the symptoms. The current study aimed to rejuvenate the entire blood production system, which, according to lead author Emmanuelle Passegué, has a lot of negative consequences on the organism as it ages.
The team began by exploring the environment, or “niche,” in which blood stem cells are produced in the bone marrow. They discovered that over time, this niche deteriorates and becomes overrun by inflammation, which impairs the blood stem cells. On closer inspection, the scientists identified one particular inflammatory signal, IL-1B, as being critical in impairing the blood stem cells. And since this signal is already targeted by drugs for other inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, anakinra was used to block IL-1B in elderly mice.
The results were impressive, with the blood stem cells returning to a healthier, younger state, which in turn improved the state of the niche, the function of the blood stem cells, and the regeneration of blood cells. The treatment was even more effective when the drug was administered throughout the life of the mice, not just in old age.
While the research is still in its early stages and the results in animal tests may not translate to humans, the team is optimistic that clinical testing could happen soon as the drug is already in use in humans. According to Passegué, “Treating elderly patients with anti-inflammatory drugs blocking IL-1B function should help with maintaining healthier blood production.”