Some of the headlines have been astonishing; essentially the blood of young animals restores the cognitive function of old animals (1). But these were not click bait enticing readers to disappointment, the stories were about real experiments where a shot of young blood, or, more precisely, protein from human umbilical cord plasma, seems to have made old animals young again (1). The work is at an early stage and the results were obtained in mice, but the potential implications for human health are huge.
Science and medicine are being challenged on several fronts by a skeptical public. Climate change results and the risks vs. benefits of immunizations are some well publicized examples where expert opinion has been disputed or dismissed. Perhaps we are now in an era where the judgment of the ‘elites’ no longer has the power it once did. However, the masses may have soured on science in some ways, but the negative feelings are not universal.
Will young blood halt or reverse aging in human beings? That is the question we really wish to answer. Most scientists would probably tell you that many things remain to be established – details like precisely which protein in plasma is anti-aging (there are at least two candidates), how much young blood would it take to get detectable benefits and how long those improvements last. Oh, and at what age does a person’s blood transition from fountain-of-youth elixir to death march juice? You may be surprised to find out that despite the vagaries, a number of people are already participating in a trial to test the young blood hypothesis (2, 3). In this study the blood of donors under age 25 is being transfused into test subjects. Participants pay $8,000 USD for this privilege. That is true faith.
Other examples of steadfast belief in science and advancing knowledge are available. Persons pay to have their bodies or brains put in cold storage (4) awaiting a future technology-enabled resurrection. Scientists have also taken note of the potential to develop novel products that appeal to a faith-based consumer logic. How about drinking a probiotic concoction harboring the gut bacteria of elite athletes to boost your performance? Developing such a product is being given serious consideration by a top research institute (5). And if they put it out there I bet someone will buy the stuff and pound it down in hopes of becoming a champion.
Over the last 400 hundred years scientists transitioned from questioning dominant religious authority to becoming an integral part of the secular power structure. Proud of a tradition of challenging their own results, scientists are not as accustomed to contesting interpretations with outsiders. The scientific data in hand revealing the possible age-mitigating powers of young blood proteins are intriguing, but at this stage the trial participants are taking an expensive leap of faith. May their devotion be rewarded. If it is, expect mass conversions to the religion of transhumanism.
(1) S. Reardon. 2017. Young Human Blood Makes Old Mice Smarter. Nature, 19 April 2017. https://www.nature.com/news/young-human-blood-makes-old-mice-smarter-1.21848
(2) J. Kaiser. 2016. Young Blood Antiaging Trial Raises Questions. Science, 1 August 2016. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/08/young-blood-antiaging-trial-raises-questions
(3) A. Maxmen. Questionable ‘Young Blood’ Transfusions Offered in U.S. as Anti-Aging Remedy. MIT Technology Review, 13 January 2017. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603242/questionable-young-blood-transfusions-offered-in-us-as-anti-aging-remedy/
(4) The Alcor Life Extension Foundation. http://www.alcor.org/
(5) T. McNally. 2017. Would You Drink a Probiotic with the Gut Bacteria of Elite Athletes? The Huffington Post, 2 April 2017. huffingtonpost.com/entry/would-yo…