Treatments for Alzheimer’s are improving daily as researchers are trying to focus on the different methods that may slow down the process for the disease, including using blood donated by young people to improve the memory of Alzheimer's patients.
Alzheimer’s disease has been one of the main targets among the healthcare researchers’ community. Not only is it a growing tendency among people those across the world, the percentages are constantly and consistently increasing in multiple regions. It is also known that the main cause of Alzheimer’s disease is the reduction of the production of cerebral acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that ensures the proper traffic of neurons in the brain.
However, probably the most revolutionary experiment in this subject is one of the latest being carried out for Alzheimer’s disease. This experiment uses the blood from young donors and fuses it with the blood of Alzheimer's patients.
As surprising as it may seem, this has had some positive results in those who are participating in it. Although, researchers say that more work is needed in order to be able to take advantage of all the potential displayed by these new findings.
A study that seems fictional but is showing real results
Recently, a team of researchers from Stanford University have revealed their first results of their significant study where a number of patients at different stages of Alzheimer’s had their blood infused with the blood from younger donors, which is expected to display massive improvements in regards to the disease's symptoms.
Although while the study seems a bit far-fetched, trying to attack a neurodegenerative disease by infusing the blood of young donors to those with Alzheimer’s disease is not that crazy of an idea. In the report presented at the Clinical Trial on Alzheimer’s Disease conference held in Boston presented the investigation carried out by a group of Stanford scientists who are pioneers in a process named “Parabiosis”. In this process, young and old mice have to be connected to the same blood system.
During this series of studies, the scientists were surprised when seeing the young mice start suffering chronic diseases and showing signs of an older metabolism. Subsequent studies went a little bit further by connecting older mice to young mice (but also giving infusions of young blood to older mice) and the results were even more surprising. The older mice stated to show improvement in their memory, being able to perform mazes and find specific targets in an easier way and a shorter period of time.
This study was a cornerstone for following investigations and one of the most important investigations. Based on the information unveiled by this experiment with mice, another group of researchers at Stanford decided to take it one step further and check if those same brain changes could be seen in human brains as well. So, they started the trial in people who were at earlier stages of Alzheimer’s disease, seeing their memory affected.
Carrying out the test in people
In order to start this test, the group of scientists recruited 9 volunteers that were requested to attend the Stanford blood bank once a week for four weeks. There, they got a unit of plasma infusion extracted from a young person. Once the first cycle had ended, the patients being studied were left alone for six weeks and then switched to young plasma for four weeks again. In some cases, blood infusions were replaced by placebos, usually for an entire period.
There was another group of 9 volunteers as well who only received plasma infusions from young people for four weeks.
Dr. Sharon Sha, lead investigator of this trial and clinical associate professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford, said that they were not expecting to find any changes in cognitive measures but they were only testing if the plasma was safe.
However, this may have been a fortunate surprise since scientists were indeed able to find changes in cognitive measures. Among the 18 volunteers, it was obvious that the blood infusions were doing something since all those receiving plasma showed solid results statistically, translated to significant improvements in how they expressed their independence. For example, some of them were able to go shopping on their own while others were able to have control over their finances and balance their checkbooks.
Nevertheless, the study did not focus on the changes in cognitive functions, meaning they did not look for changes in Alzheimer’s markers, such as the abnormalities of beta-amyloid and tau proteins. Scientists have let known that it is still not clear how the young plasma works on people with Alzheimer’s disease and how it can improve their ability to function normally on a daily basis. Scientists say plasma in younger people may contain neuroregenerative properties that help the brain remain healthy.
The impact of this test in the development of future treatments
The results of this evaluation may have an important impact in the development of future treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, for experts, the next step means to replicate these same results many times in larger groups of people. This will help verify the findings and collect more information about the test.
According to the tests, scientists may have other strategies to approach new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and even for other neurodegenerative conditions. However, Keith Fargo, who is the director of scientific programs at the Alzheimer’s associations says that it is not likely to have people lining up for blood infusions although results are repeated and findings are confirmed in future tests. The same may happen with all those people who look at this as a possibility to protect themselves from suffering Alzheimer’s disease in the future.
The next step for researchers will likely follow up with studying what factors from young plasma make it that effective and what exact regenerative properties it has.