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Elderly rich folk can now buy the blood of young people to stay healthy

Catch Team | Updated on: 23 August 2017, 19:35 IST
(HBO/Silicon Valley)

In one of the stranger moments from the recently concluded season of HBO's Silicon Valley, middle-aged tech mogul Gavin Belson is shown receiving blood infusions from a young, healthy man in an attempt to prevent ageing. The 'blood boy' method, as the show called it, seemed like an OTT metaphor for how the rich prey on the less fortunate. However, this practice is now an actual thing, courtesy of American startup Ambrosia.

Named after the food of the immortal Greek gods, Ambrosia has launched a clinical trial where ageing patients are infused with two litres of blood plasma (blood minus blood cells) from younger donors. The trial claims its intent is to study the effect of these infusions on a hundred different biomarkers in blood. Ambrosia expects that these markers will show positive changes, showing the anti-ageing and health benefits of such infusions.

Parabiosis

As a recent quote from Game of Thrones so eloquently reminded us: Death is the enemy. While this is certainly true in George RR Martin's fantasy series, it is no less true in modern medicine. Overcoming death is the holy grail of medicine, and Ambrosia's attempts are yet another attempt to achieve this. The idea is that younger blood will have anti-ageing properties, helping patients live longer.

The idea isn't something new. In fact, it's rooted in a 150-year-old scientific concept called parabiosis. In parabiosis, the blood circulatory systems of two different organisms are attached, resulting in one shared vascular system like that in conjoined twins.

Whatever is in young blood is causing changes that appear to make the aging process reverse.

In parabiosis experiments involving mice, scientists found that joining two mice of different ages like this resulted in marked improvements in the health of the older mice. A 2014 Harvard study showed that injecting older mice with plasma from younger mice resulted in improved brain function and memory, while plasma from older mice seemed to impair younger recipients.

Ambrosia intends to replicate these results in humans. “Whatever is in young blood is causing changes that appear to make the aging process reverse,” claimed Karmazin in an interview to New Scientist. Going further, he even claimed that the procedure had positive effects on everything from heart disease and Alzheimer's to improved sleep.

However, the way they're going about it has led to raised eyebrows in the scientific community.

A vampiric scam?

The problem with Ambrosia isn't the idea itself, but rather how the company is going about its business. Unlike most clinical trials, the company charges participants a whopping $8,000 to be part of the trial. With 600 participants, with a median age of 60, now registered, many believe that the company is, in fact, one big scam to defraud desperate and gullible customers.

Jesse Karmazin, the founder of Ambrosia, has refuted these accusations, claiming that the vast majority of the money received goes into procuring plasma and running clinical tests. However, even if Karmazin is investing heavily in these tests, Ambrosia's findings will not have any scientific credibility because of how poorly the trials are designed.

At $8,000 a pop, these trials will bank Karmazin a cool $4.8 million.

Prior to the infusion, and then a month after it, Ambrosia's patients will have various biomarkers in their blood analysed. However, as scientists have pointed out, these markers can change for a variety of reasons, not just plasma infusions. Worse, unlike a normal scientific study, the $8,000 fee means that Karmazin cannot administer a placebo to any of the participants. As a result, the “study” has no control group to compare the results of the infusions to.

With problems like this, it's unlikely Ambrosia's findings will have any scientific validity. However, these trials will bank Karmazin a cool $4.8 million, money that will certainly keep him living well, even if not longer.

First published: 23 August 2017, 19:35 IST
 
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