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Young blood proves fountain of youth to elderly mice

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Blood from young, spry and healthy mice has proved to have an age-reversing effect on older mice, say researchers from Harvard University. In three separate studies from Harvard and the University of California, San Francisco, and published in Science and Nature Medicine, results have demonstrated dramatic improvements in areas such as memory, sensory function and strength and endurance, reports the Science Now section of the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, May 4.

Groups of elderly mice in the research projects were infused with the blood of younger mice, and they developed far-reaching improvements. Most exciting, trying similar experiments on humans may be possible in the next few years. Researchers have targeted a specific protein, which appears in the blood of both mice and humans, as the key factor in the rejuvenation.

Lee Rubin, who is a professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard, stressed that a single protein is clearly controlling the process. “We do think that, at least in principle, there will be a way to reverse some of the decline of aging” by taking advantage of the regenerative powers of this protein in blood.

The anti-aging project has been underway for more than 10 years, but recent studies have zeroed in on this more specific factor – a protein known as growth differentiation factor 11, or GDF 11. The protein is plentiful in the blood of young mice, but the abundance decreases with age. Its absence appears to control much of the decline with age of mice as well as humans.

One paper focused on the sense of smell. Young mice tend to avoid a strong scent of mint, but their elders are less able to detect its presence. Researchers injected older mice with the GDF 11, and the predicted improvements in sensory detection proved true.

Another paper put research focus on muscle dysfunction, with equal success. A third study observed the effects of the rejuvenation on memory. Older mice, reports the Washington Post, got stronger, more mentally able, and they can exercise for longer. The effects were striking.

So striking, in fact, that UCSF professor Saul Villeda warns, “Don’t try this at home.” To get the same effects in humans will take a little more study. And it is not a do-it-yourself project.

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