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Doug Wilson - Young Blood for Old: Miracle or Scam

This interview was originally published via the RNZ Website. To listen to the full interview visit the RNZ website.

Taking blood transfusions from the young has been decried as a very expensive snake oil, but a doctor says there are some promising signs it could curb diseases associated with aging.

Dr Doug Wilson has a medical degree from New Zealand, a PhD from the University of London and has pursued postgraduate work and medical research globally.

He talked to Kim Hill about how the vampiric industry of taking young blood for the rich could have positive outcomes for the elderly.

The idea is an old one which was recently revived when a Northern Californian company called Ambrosia started selling blood transfusions from young, healthy people to older people for $8000 a pop.

Their evidence for its success is based on a study done on rodents which showed the transfusions could repair muscle and improve brain function. However, in the study the rodents were inbred to be, more or less, identical.

“The problem has been that there is almost no clinical data. The first company, Ambrosia, have treated more than 150 people, but they’ve not had any significant clinical outcomes published anywhere. The difficulty then becomes, you have so many variables in the donor individuals who present information to the older recipients, that you can’t be sure of anything because the variables are so wide.

On 19 February, the US Food and Drug Administration stepped in and warned: "Some patients are being preyed upon by unscrupulous actors touting treatments of plasma from young donors as cures and remedies. Such treatments have no proven clinical benefits for the uses are advertising them, and they are potentially harmful.’

The Ambrosia website now states: "In compliance with the FDA announcement issued February 19, 2019, we have ceased patient treatments."

However, Dr Wilson says some of the research from the animals are “seriously positive”, particularly the ones on brain function.

“Other companies are now coming in backed by more serious academic credentials, and they’re identifying between the young mice and old mice what positive factors may be being delivered by the young mice. Some proteins and some growth factors increase in the older mice that decrease in the elderly. So, they’re now investigating that they may identify which of the factors are most important from that perspective, and then purify those, make analogues of those and use those as a therapeutic intervention. This seems a much more serious approach.”

Dr Wilson says there is big money behind these initiatives and studies are now being done to assess how it could affect patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia, but in a much more controlled environment than what Ambrosia were doing.

He says his instinct is that something positive will emerge from the studies.

In the meantime, he says, the best bet for a longer life is calorie restriction and exercise.

Although it’s not as fun or easy as a blood transfusion, studies have shown a positive link between increased exercise and lower rates of dementia.

Dr Doug Wilson currently consults and acts as the chief medical officer for Ferghana Partners Group, whose business is focused on new technologies in biotechnical companies and healthcare.

Wilson is dyslexic and after the age of 70 began a new career as a children's author, publishing 10 books to date. His latest book is one for adults, called Aging for Beginners.

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