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Freshen up those stem cells with young blood


Vampire fetishists will be heartened by this news release from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which suggests there may be something to the idea of rejuvenating old tissues with an infusion of young blood.

As we all now know, a reserve army of stem cells resident in our tissues keeps us youthful - or at least slows the aging process - by serving as a source of replacements for cells worn out on the field of battle that we call life. But stem cells wear out, too. For example, blood-forming stem cells, which are absolutely crucial to our continued health because mature blood cells don't last long even in young bodies, gradually lose their springtime sizzle and become both more sluggish and more prone to making mistakes (think: leukemia).

Harvard Medical School's Amy Wagers, PhD, a former post-doc in the lab of Stanford stem-cell wizard Irving Weissman, MD, is the senior author of a Nature study in which, when the circulatory systems of young mice were connected to those of old ones (yielding what scientists refer to as "conjoined mice"), the latter's blood-forming stem cells did a better job of - what else - forming blood:

Wagers had participated in two previous studies that found that the blood of young mice appears to contain factors that could improve the repair capabilities of muscle and skin in older or diabetic mice, respectively. In the new work, Wagers and her team decided to find out whether blood-forming (hematopoietic) stem cells in the bone marrow could also be rejuvenated. . . . Exposure to a younger animal's blood somehow pushed the older animal's hematopoietic stem cells back to a more youthful state, in which they were fewer in number but recovered nearly all of their blood-cell-generating capacity.

Cue the cellos.

Of course, verifying Wager's results directly in human subjects could prove difficult if not downright illegal. But once the word hits the street, I won't be surprised to see a few fangs come out and garlic sales skyrocket. We're all Transylvanians now.

Photo by DerrickT

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