There’s a new anti-aging trend on the horizon, and it’s the wildest one we’ve heard of yet: young blood transfusions.
A new clinical trial is aiming to put science behind immortality myths, seeing whether or not young blood transfusions are the answer to staving off the effects of aging.
“Some people don’t understand what we’re doing, and they think that we are vampires,” Dr. Jesse Karmazin, founder of the aptly-named U.S. startup Ambrosia LLC, told Highsnobiety. “But we are actually just taking something that is part of standard medical practice and using it for a new purpose. We’re looking at specifically what happens when you get blood from young people.”
In this case, the nectar of the gods has nothing to do with Hungarian virgins or lunar cycles: it’s a two-liter blood plasma transfusion from anonymous donors ranging from 16 to 25.
Blood transfusions are a routine procedure for treating illnesses such as anemia, cancer and infections, but the average donor age is 65, where as Ambrosia’s patients typically receive blood from 19-year-olds.
Can Young Blood Transfusions Prevent Aging?
The blood that fuels all of our organs naturally decreases in quality as we age, leaving the body to function at a lower capacity. Dr. Karmazin’s hypothesis is that if you are running on healthier younger blood, the rest of the body will better resist gradual decline.
But unlike other anti-aging blood treatments – including the vampire facial popularized by Kim Kardashian, which turns your own blood into wrinkle filler for a more youthful appearance – this process is about more than combating crow’s feet. The promising touted benefits of the transfusions range from improved cognitive function to reductions in rates of cancer and diabetes.
“While some patients are saying that they look better, one of the main improvements is quality of sleep,” Dr. Karmazin said. “As people get older, they have much more difficulty sleeping.”
Sleep has a huge impact on overall health and appearance. Being well-rested has been shown to improve the immune system, mental health, weight management and memory.
Currently, the clinical trial is only open to patients aged 35 and up, but the Ambrosia CEO says that participants ages range from 39 to 92, with the average patient being in their mid 60s. And while anti-aging treatments are typically more popular among women, two-thirds of the more than 65 participants who have signed up for this trial are men.
It Works for Mice
Dr. Karmazin’s clinical study follows the success of a blood-swapping trial published by Harvard University’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology in 2014. The trial showed that exposure to young blood was linked to an increase in neural stem cells, improved ability for muscles to regenerate and a heightened sense of smell in mice.
While the old mice given young blood improved, young mice given very old blood showed a general decline in health, suggesting that blood can eventually turn toxic with age.
The Harvard team found that exposing older mice to young blood resulted in more exercise stamina and a reversal of the natural hardening of the heart that comes as we get older, which plays a role in a range of diseases.
$8,000 for Two Liters
The elixir of youth does not come cheap. A one-time treatment to freshen up all of your blood plasma comes with an $8,000 price tag – and no guarantees.
While investors finance many clinical trials, Ambrosia has to rely on patients to support the research, because blood transfusions are not something that you can patent after a successful study.
“I would love for someone to invest in what we are doing, but because you can’t patent what we are doing, it is difficult to protect that investment,” Dr. Karmazin said. “That’s the reason that most clinical trials have funding and we don’t.”
Still, he sees patients from all corners of the world drawn to California and Florida clinics by the promise of feeling younger.
“Compared to most elective medical treatments, it is not out of the normal price range. People are used to paying several times this for cars or plastic surgery,” Dr. Karmazin added.
Is There Any Evidence Yet?
The first patients to undergo this therapy started in September 2016, so the data can only offer anecdotal evidence. While Ambrosia is currently trying to enlist enough participants to gather conclusive evidence on the one-time two-liter injections, Dr. Karmazin is already looking to expand his research.
“Currently it is a one-time treatment, but we are looking into whether more treatments or higher doses can make it work even better. It is an open question of how often a person should be treated, we don’t really know yet,” he said.
As for Dr. Karmazin, he has yet to try his own treatment. Despite being three years too young for the procedure, he looks forward to having more options to keep himself from getting old.
“I am excited to try it myself,” he said. “I’m 32, so I don’t even qualify for my own trial, but people who have tried it seem to be feeling better. I’m really confident in the effects.”
Next up: here’s why Cosmopolitan (and Kim Kardashian) need to stop glorifying weight loss caused by serious illness.
- Words: Angela Waters
- Lead image: Natalie Moreno / tonic.vice.com