A private clinic in Monterey, Calif., is holding clinical trials to see if giving younger blood to older patients is a fountain of youth. The catch? Price of admission is $8K.
Ambrosia, the tech startup running the trial, is looking to find out if there are any health benefits to blood transfusions. According to a report in Technology Review, Ambrosia wants to enroll 600 trial members for a cool $4.6 million.
Jesse Karmazin is the 32-year-old entrepreneur behind the study. He told MIT Technology Review that he got the idea for it after reading studies about blood transfusions in mice.
In a 2013 study published in Cell, an older and younger mouse were sewn together — a technique called parabiosis — so that they would share a circulatory system. The study found that cardiac health in the older mouse improved thanks to a rise in levels of a certain kind of protein called GDF11.
There’s a key difference between Ambrosia’s study and Cell’s: the Cell mice were conjoined and shared a circulatory system for up to four weeks. Ambrosia won’t be sewing a young human to an older one. Instead, it’s offering patients above the age of 35 a one-time transfusion of young plasma.
To further complicate the study, it’s being conducting without a control; due to the high admission price, all participants will receive real plasma and not a placebo.
Another study with mice seems to suggest that young-to-old blood transfusions won’t produce the miraculous results some might hope for.
The study, conducted by the University of California, found that when an old mouse and a young mouse shared their blood through a pump, the older mouse experienced only marginal benefits.
The research suggests that blood screening, not transfusions, might hold the key to a longer life. The University of California study found that the young mouse, infused with old blood, couldn’t produce as many new brain cells as a peer or complete a strength test against a peer. “The young mice became almost as decrepit as the old ones,” said Irina Conboy, who headed the study, in an interview with Technology Review.
Toxins in the older blood are the culprit, Conboy believes, and her team is trying to find out which proteins in old blood might be filtered out to the benefit of a human patient. The study also raises the question of age restriction on blood donation.
So is the ambrosia study a scam? Karmazin denies the trial is for profit, though some companies have conducted such studies as a way to market unregulated products. Karmazin told MIT Technology Review that the money would be used to cover laboratory costs and the plasma.
The price of two liters of plasma comes to $1,000 and the biomarker testing comes to about $3,000.
Karmazin’s partner is David C. Wright, a 66-year-old physician who does private intravenous therapy. Wright was disciplined by the California State Medical Board in 2015 after he gave an intravenous treatment of antibiotics to a patient who didn’t need them and later ended up in the emergency room.
There’s a potential downside to blood transfusions, as they may have side effects as mild as hives and as severe as deadly infections.
The attraction to blood transfusions may owe its power to vampire lore; the notion that consuming the blood of the young will preserve the old might be making the jump from fiction to reality in the hopeful minds of sick patients. For now though, the science seems to suggest it’s still a myth.