The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an official warning against the use of plasma infusions from “young blood” donors as anti-aging treatments.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., spoke out last month about establishments that claim to use the liquid form for blood from young donors to treat a variety of age-related conditions, including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“There is no proven clinical benefit of infusion of plasma from young donors to cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent these conditions, and there are risks associated with the use of any plasma product,” Gottlieb said in a statement on February 19, 2019. “Our concerns regarding treatments using plasma from young donors are heightened by the fact that there is no compelling clinical evidence on its efficacy, nor is there information on appropriate dosing for treatment of the conditions for which these products are being advertised. Plasma is not FDA-recognized or approved to treat conditions such as normal aging or memory loss, or other diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.”
Plasma is the straw-colored liquid component of blood that contains a wealth of antibodies, glucose, clotting factors, electrolytes and hormones and, therefore, is considered “the gift of life.” Plasma has many legitimate clinical uses in treating serious health problems—including emergency situations (such as trauma and burns) and rare chronic conditions (such as autoimmune disorders and hemophilia).
But over the years, companies have turned a profit selling this liquid gold—offering plasma transfusions from young blood donors to people seeking to cheat aging, even though there’s no scientific evidence to support those claims.
One of these companies—Ambrosia, a private clinic based in Monterey, California, that was shut down after the FDA’s announcement—charged patients a staggering $8,000 for a liter of young plasma and $12,000 for two liters for intravenous treatments purporting anti-aging benefits.
There have been a series of scientific papers published in high-profile journals that used the same “young blood” theory to conduct experiments in mice. For example, in 2013, scientists from Stanford University published a study in Cell in which they conjoined the veins of older mice to younger mice to circulate blood between the rodents. The results showed that a specific component in young blood had anti-aging benefits for older mice, sparking mainstream interest in potentially reversing aging in humans.
“What they found is, by using very specific measures, that they could see to some extent that if you had young blood in an older mouse, there were certain parameters and certain features of aging that were very slightly modified,” said Margaret Goodell, Ph.D., professor and director of the Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Center (STaR) at Baylor College of Medicine. “Vice versa, you could take blood from an old mouse and put it into a younger mouse, and there were features of aging that you could now see in the young mouse. That led to the idea that there’s something circulating in the blood that is associated with age that you can make you younger or older, depending on which direction it goes.”
However, these fountain-of-youth medical treatment claims “have virtually no basis in reality,” Goodell said.
“There’s a hunger in our culture for any anti-aging therapy,” she said. “Everyone wants to try something new, and this sounds kind of cool as if there’s something magical in the blood of young people. It would be great if it were true, but it’s just not. Frankly, what boggles my mind is the amount of money they’re charging for these things.”
Even scientists who had done some of these early studies would argue, she said, that if there is any anti-aging effect at all, it’s very small and very transient.
“You could imagine if there’s a grain of reality to what is going on, that—at best—somebody might have a very transient, extremely minor effect that you’re not really going to be able to detect,” Goodell said. “That’s going to be gone in, say, a week after the transfusion is done. How often would you have to do these transfusions and at what cost for it to have an effect? It’s just not possible.”
Over at least the last eight decades, there has been a surge in research aimed at understanding the fundamental mechanisms of aging and the possibility of slowing down the process. The National Institutes of Health spent an estimated $8.1 billion on aging, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease research in 2018, according to the NIH’s Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools.
The 2019 budget for these conditions and diseases is expected to be less, which creates a more difficult funding challenge for researchers.
“In real science, we’re always struggling for funding to do what we think is good, quality research experiments,” Goodell said. “I work on aging myself and its impact on stem cells, as do many other labs. We’re always scrounging around for dollars here and there. Then I see people spending $8,000 on infusing plasma and the other people doing that. If we had 10 of them, that’s $80,000 I could put to really great use in a lab. I feel like it’s a terrible waste of money that’s going into the pockets of charlatans.”
“I'm a huge believer in always biopsying the first site of metastatic disease, especially to recheck the ER/PR and HER2 status,” says our @JenniferLitton of how data shows #breastcancer can change with metastasis. #bcsm #endcancer https://t.co/DzL4k31aQn
We have gone purple this week for Domestic Violence Awareness month. Learn how you can help: https://t.co/CxrGw0N0S9 #domesticviolenceawareness #domesticviolenceawarenessmonth https://t.co/2S19KMnHOh
Meet the people behind the papers – George Britton and Aryeh Warmflash: https://t.co/9DTjXt8Iow via @Co_Biologists https://t.co/4boMPVOMg0
Weston spent his summers training for the upcoming football & basketball seasons. When his mom noticed he was losing steam, they decided it was time for a trip to the doctor's office. They never expected it to be cancer. Read Weston's story: https://t.co/4CEbwUWpi5 #ThisIsCancer https://t.co/w6Nun5rKkI
RT @WebsEdge_Health: ASHG TV sat down with Brendan Lee, Professor & Chairman, Dept. of Molecular & Human #Genetics @bcmhouston to learn mor…
“One of the important questions we want to answer is ‘Why don’t these work better?’”@AnnKloppMD explains how our HPV-Related Cancers Moon Shot is working to overcome barriers using #immunotherapy: https://t.co/kL6uLPuGFj @CancerFrontline #CancerMoonshot #endcancer
Join us for the "Grill Your Ace Off" event this Saturday, October 19 with Cypress @AceHardware! Proceeds benefit @CMNHospitals: https://t.co/UeNuaDzp9h
A new technique developed by Rice bioscientists has allowed them to make the most comprehensive analysis yet of signaling pathways that drive patterning of human ectoderm.Read more: https://t.co/fmCDuInplI https://t.co/6iBO8MfaCI
University of Houston@UHouston
RT @GetInvolvedUH: Join us for InfraRED: Spooktacular TONIGHT from 7:00-10:00PM in the Student Centers Houston Room. This year’s activities…
University of Houston@UHouston
RT @UHoustonLib: .@UH_Arch_Art_Lib is pleased to host an opening reception for student artist Morgan Stahl on November 8https://t.co/Eq2V…
Veterans getting better care through partnerships, says VA secretary https://t.co/j29GiiYZSQ via #VAntagePoint
Mark your calendars for @BCMCancerCenter’s Lights Out, Cancer event happening Feb. 8. To learn more about this event or how you could participate even if you can't attend, please visit: https://t.co/DcJyiczUvu #BCMLightsOutCancer #BCMLOC https://t.co/uwVfAQxgcO
Finding your way around one of the largest cancer centers in the world can be daunting. Here’s how our patient escorts can help: https://t.co/e1w2DxY0VX #endcancer
"The circulatory system’s response to panic...a pounding feeling in the head or chest and/or prompt feelings of lightheadedness or dizziness, according to the Texas Heart Institute. https://t.co/yfBHBgwHuC @Texas_Heart
RT @RiceArch: This week's episode of the Rice Architecture podcast Tête-à-Tête features a conversation with student Ethan Chan about the Ri…