NEW YORK — Young blood studies have been focusing on infusing older patients with the blood of their younger and healthier peers. While these transfusions show promise at turning back the clock, a new study finds scientists may be able to do this without using someone else’s blood. Researchers from Columbia University in New York say an anti-inflammatory drug can rejuvenate the system which makes blood — possibly increasing the human lifespan by decades!
“An aging blood system, because it’s a vector for a lot of proteins, cytokines, and cells, has a lot of bad consequences for the organism,” says Emmanuelle Passegué, PhD, director of the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative, in a university release. “A 70-year-old with a 40-year-old blood system could have a longer healthspan, if not a longer lifespan.”
How does the drug make blood young again?
Passegué and graduate student Carl Mitchell discovered the anti-inflammatory drug anakinra, approved for use in rheumatoid arthritis cases, reverses some of the effects of aging on the hematopoietic system. The drug is available under the brand name Kineret.
“These results indicate that such strategies hold promise for maintaining healthier blood production in the elderly,” Mitchell says.
The team found this drug after examining the stem cells which are responsible for creating all the blood in a person’s body. They also analyzed the niches where these special cells reside within bone marrow — the center of a person’s bones.
As a person ages, the hematopoietic stem cells start to change as well. They start producing fewer and fewer red blood cells and immune cells. This can lead to blood conditions like anemia as well as a weakening immune system. These aging blood cells also have more trouble maintaining their genetic structure, which can result in the onset of blood cancer.
Previous attempts at rejuvenating the blood system — through exercise, diet, and even young blood transfusions — all failed in experiments with mice. That’s when Passegué’s team started looking at the bone marrow itself.
“Blood stem cells live in a niche; we thought what happens in this specialized local environment could be a big part of the problem,” Mitchell explains.
Within aging mice, the new study reveals that the environment where the blood-producing stem cells live becomes overwhelmed with inflammation and deteriorates — leading to blood stem cell dysfunction. Results show the damaged bone marrow niche, IL-1B, plays a key role in driving these aging features. However, anakinra is capable of blocking this. Administering the drug returned aging blood to a younger and healthier state.
This could lead to an anti-aging treatment for people over 50
The team discovered even more anti-aging benefits in the blood system and bone marrow after preventing IL-1B from triggering inflammation throughout the animals’ lifespans. The New York team is now studying whether humans would benefit from this same treatment, instead relying on young blood transfusions.
“Treating elderly patients with anti-inflammatory drugs blocking IL-1B function should help with maintaining healthier blood production,” Passegué says, who hopes this study will soon lead to clinical trials.
“We know that bone tissue begins to degrade when people are in their 50s. What happens in middle age? Why does the niche fail first?” Passegué continues. “Only by having a deep molecular understanding will it be possible to identify approaches that can truly delay aging.”
Passegué’s findings are published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.
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