In part 1 of this article, I discussed the concept of parabiosis, in which two animals are surgically attached so they share the same blood supply to determine if the physiology in one animal affects the other. Researchers used this technique to show that when normal mice were attached to mice with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), the normal mice started to exhibit symptoms of AD. The researchers concluded that AD-associated toxic proteins traveled through the blood from the AD mice to the brains of their normal partners, causing AD symptoms.
So the next question was obvious – can a young human’s fresh blood reverse the damage of AD in humans? To test this, nine patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s got four once-weekly infusions of either saline (as a placebo) or plasma from 18- to 30-year-old healthy male donors. After a 6-week break, the infusions were switched so that the patients who had got plasma received saline, and the patients who had gotten saline received plasma. Another group of nine patients received young plasma only and had no placebo. While several patients dropped out of the trial for various reasons, the remaining patients performed no better on cognitive tests and saw no measureable improvement in memory or thinking. However, there was a slight improvement in ADL (activities of daily living) scores, which are a subjective measurement of simple tasks like getting dressed and shopping.
While the results may be interesting, we do not yet know if blood transfusions could treat Alzheimer’s disease because it is unclear what cellular process in the brain the treatment is targeting. A lot of research still needs to be done to determine if any beneficial effect was due to the treatment itself or merely the placebo effect. Because the initial test of this type of treatment was found to be safe, the researchers now wish to test just the fraction of the blood plasma that contains growth factors to, to narrow down where any beneficial effect may be coming from.
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