by Heather Kroeker
The idea of siphoning the blood of a healthy young person into the veins of a decaying pensioner may sound vampiric, but in the never-ending quest to debunk ageing, one company believes that this may be the answer.
Ambrosia, named after the immortality liquid drunk by the Greek gods, was founded in 2016 by American physician Dr Jesse Karmazin. It offers patients willing to pay the $8000 (£6000) price-tag for one litre of treatment the chance to revitalise their mind and body with the blood of someone under-25.
“It’s still very early to say, but I think it’s going to be an effective treatment for medical conditions like Alzheimer’s and heart disease and other diseases related to ageing. I mean, I think it actually reverses ageing,” says Karmazin. “I really believe that it makes people younger.”
The concept for the company came from a 1950s parabiosis experiment conducted at Cornell University by American biochemist and pioneering gerontologist Clive M. McCay, who wanted to know if parabiosis could solve the immemorial problem of ageing.
Reverse ageing in rats
The researchers stitched a young and old rat together by their flanks, ultimately joining their circulatory systems, enabling the blood to flow continuously between the two rats. The end result of McCay’s experiment was signs of reversed ageing and cured diseases in the older rat.
After reading the study, Karmazin wondered if a similar process could work on people, and if it could be key in solving ageing. While he doesn’t perform parabiosis, Karmazin says the results of the plasma transfusions performed at Ambrosia are promising.
“The most common [effects] are more energy, better memory, better appearance or skin quality, better sleep and overall a feeling of being stronger. People also see lower inflammation.”
Though studies into the effects of plasma transfusion on longevity are still ongoing, Karmazin believes wholeheartedly that the answer to longer life is in our blood, and says that the early results of his own study, due to be published later this year, show the method’s promise.
Will injecting plasma cure death?
Dr Aubrey de Grey, renowned biomedical gerontologist and founder of the SENS Research Foundation, says that while Ambrosia’s work injecting plasma isn’t quite the death cure, it is a start.
“Ambrosia are doing something called plasma infusion, which means putting plasma, which is blood with the cells removed, from a young person into an older person.”
“But you can’t put in very much unless you also take some old blood out, which they aren’t doing yet,” says de Grey.
“People are moving fast to that next stage, plasma exchange. The stage after that will be to add and/or remove the specific blood components that are mediating the beneficial effects of plasma exchange, which are still being identified.”
Combining treatment methods is imperative
De Grey adds that while many promising anti-ageing technologies have been developed, in order to have the greatest potential in reversing human ageing, it will be imperative to combine treatment methods in order to obtain the best results.
While the promise of a longer, healthier life might seem a happy thought to many, some experts warn that there could be consequences to a choose-your-own-fate lifestyle.
Dr Mauricio Avendano, director of the institute of gerontology at the department of global health and social medicine at King’s College London, says that it could be wishful thinking to believe that ageing could be cured outright, but feels its important to consider the possibilities that living longer could mean for society.
“We need to develop a new thinking of what older age means,” says Avendano.
The idea of retiring at 65 and living off a pension into your “golden years” is a past notion already and Avendano expects that if humans live even longer, perhaps indefinitely, that model of old-age will be a long-forgotten. If ageing were “cured,” Avendano says that there would be a large fraction of older people in society, which could present even greater challenges to the already-struggling health care and pension systems.
“While living longer might be a good thing, I think we need to be prepared for the potential impacts that come alongside living longer.”
But while some might argue that Dr Karmazin’s research is “playing god,” Karmazin feels that Ambrosia’s work is important for overall human health.
“I think most diseases in the developed world – most of our illnesses – stem from ageing. We’ve sort of conquered other infections.” says Karmazin. “And so that’s why I think ageing is essentially a disease, and we need to treat it like a disease.”
As more and more promising technologies continue to be developed daily, Dr de Grey says society’s obsession with cheating death could soon be a reality.
“If it’s an obsession to want to be younger for longer, then it’s also an obsession to want to prevent the so-called diseases of old age. The reason this concern is becoming more prevalent is the right reason: we are getting closer to being able to actually do something decisive,” says de Grey.
“Longevity is a side-effect of health. No one wants to get sick, nor do they want anyone else to get sick. That doesn’t change with how long ago the might-be-sick-might-be-healthy person was born.”
While Karmazin knows that it might be decades before he can definitively say that plasma transfusion is the answer to ageing, he believes wholeheartedly in the results he’s seeing in his patients.
“I think it’s wonderful that we can now treat ageing. Our goal is the same goal that doctors have had for centuries for all of history, which is to alleviate suffering and to cure disease, and to help people live longer and more productive lives. I think that’s always been the goal of medicine – but I think [plasma transfusion] is more effective,” says Karmazin.
“This is the question we have to ask ourselves: what do we do now that we finally have something that’s effective?”
Featured Image by geralt on Pixabay