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PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Dracula may have been onto something, as a new study finds “young blood” could reverse the aging process. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center find that transfusions of serum may hold the key to preventing age-related diseases – including Alzheimer’s.

In experiments, giving older mice transfusions of certain proteins in blood plasma from youthful peers regenerated the rodents’ muscle cells.

“We’re really excited about this research for a couple of reasons,” says senior author Professor Fabrisia Ambrosio from Pittsburgh University in a media release.

“In one way, it helps us understand the basic biology of how muscle regeneration works and how it fails to work as we age. Then, taking that information to the next step, we can think about using extracellular vesicles as therapeutics to counteract these age-related defects.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Aging, sheds fresh light on the development of frailty as people age and how to combat it. The condition leads to older people feeling unnecessarily low in energy and suffering weight loss and weakness.

Older adults are more prone to falls, fractures, hospitalization, disability, dementia, and even premature death. Avoiding the condition increases the chances of maintaining independence and lessens the likelihood of needing elder care later in life. Suffering from frailty also contributes to a lower quality of life and depression.

As people age, their muscles gradually become smaller and less able to heal after injury. The new findings could lead to new regeneration therapies using blood-derived treatments.

What’s in young blood that makes people younger?

Study authors find that “circulating shuttles” called extracellular vesicles (or EVs) deliver genetic instructions to a longevity protein known as Klotho. The team discovered older mice had fewer of these proteins than their younger counterparts. This may hold the key to why muscle power dwindles with age. The study builds on decades of research on mice showing young blood restores youthful features to cells and tissues.

“We wondered if extracellular vesicles might contribute to muscle regeneration because these couriers travel between cells via the blood and other bodily fluids,” says lead author Dr. Amrita Sahu. “Like a message in a bottle, EVs deliver information to target cells.”

The researchers collected serum samples from young mice. When they injected the young blood into aging mice, injured muscles regenerated and recovered their youthful function. Those receiving a placebo treatment remained frail.

The researchers note that the serum’s restorative properties dropped off when they removed the EVs, indicating they mediate the beneficial effects of young blood. Further analysis found they deliver genetic instructions or mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) to the cells.

It carries genetic instructions from DNA encoding the anti-aging protein Klotho to muscle progenitor cells — stem cells that boost skeletal muscle. EVs collected from old mice carried fewer copies of the instructions for Klotho than those from young mice, prompting less of the protein.

Will young blood clinics go from fad to mainstream?

With increasing age, muscle doesn’t heal as well after damage. Scar tissue builds up instead of restoring original muscle structure. Earlier work by the same researchers showed Klotho regulates regenerative capacity in muscle progenitor cells, but this declines with age. The discovery opens the door to developing EVs into novel therapies for healing damaged muscle tissue.

“EVs may be beneficial for boosting regenerative capacity of muscle in older individuals and improving functional recovery after an injury,” Prof. Ambrosio says. “One of the ideas we’re really excited about is engineering EVs with specific cargoes, so that we can dictate the responses of target cells.”

Beyond muscles, EVs could also help reverse other effects of aging. Previous work has demonstrated that young blood can boost cognitive performance of older mice. The researchers have a grant to explore the potential of EVs for reversing age-related declines in cognition.

Clinics offering blood transfusions have cropped up all over the world after a number of studies have suggested they could reverse aging. Despite this, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned there is no evidence the therapy works.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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