In what sounds like a new science fiction experiment the likes of which Dr. Frankenstein would have been proud, the founders of a startup company called Alkahest in California, believe that Alzheimer’s can be slowed, stopped, and possibly reversed by injecting blood from young people into people with Alzheimer’s disease. They are administrating clinical trials to prove it. Actually, it’s not the blood itself, but the vitreous fluid called plasma that is left after all the cells from the blood are removed. As I write, a small sample of patients with Alzheimer’s disease are already receiving weekly injections of plasma that has been donated by young, healthy individuals.
There have been decades of research that supports the healing capacity of young blood using mice as subjects, not humans. When a young mouse is sutured to an older mouse so that they share the same blood stream, the younger mice begin to show signs of aging but the benefits to the older mice are profound. The older mice have better memory, heal quicker, and became more agile. A group of researchers from Stanford recently expanded upon those results and found that when given plasma injections from younger mice, mice with Alzheimer’s disease demonstrated an increase in cognitive function. There are a few problems with these studies though:
1. Mice are not people. Many experiments that have shown promise with mice have failed miserably when attempted on human subjects.
2. We still need to consider exactly what it is in the plasma that is increasing cognitive function.
3. Is the treatment safe?
All the above concerns have recently been successfully addressed. In November, Sharon Sha, MD from the Stanford University School of Medicine, presented the results of their PLASMA (Plasma for Alzheimer’s Symptom Amelioration) trials to the annual Clinical Trial on Alzheimer’s Disease conference in Boston. Researchers there have “reported success in an early-phase clinical trial examining the safety, tolerability, and feasibility of administering infusions of blood plasma from young donors to participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. There were also some signs suggesting improvements in participants’ conditions.” These Stanford trials were sponsored by Alkahest.
Sha cautions that the assessments were based on caregiver reports and that the sample population of 18 was very small. They also served as their own controls. In the first stage, nine participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s were given four week infusions of either plasma or the saline placebo. Then, after a six week “Washout” period, the regimens were reversed.
The same was repeated with the second group of participants. On two of three different assessments of functional ability, participants “showed statistically significant improvement.”
Although Sha admits their findings need to be tempered by the fact that the trial was very small, she is looking forward to trials with larger populations.
1. Clinical Trials Finds Blood-Plasma Infusions for Alzheimer’s Safe, Promising: Stanford Medicine News Center.
2. Can Young Blood Actually Help Cure Alzheimer’s? Gregory Logan-Graf, Massive Science.