Young Blood

10743736-Human-blood-circulation-symbol-with-red-blood-cells-flowing-through-veins-and-human-circulatory-syst-Stock-PhotoFor the Ancient Greeks, blood was a magical elixir.  Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) — author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire — described the mad rush of spectators into arenas to drink the blood of fallen gladiators.

Centuries later, Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499),  an Italian scholar and Catholic priest who was one of the most influential humanist philosophers of the early Italian Renaissance, promoted drinking young blood as a means to regain youthful vigor.

Of course, this was the time of the Inquisition, and the Inquisition was known to come down hard on that kind of thing.

The first recorded attempt of a blood transfusion was described by Stefano Infessura, the 15th-century chronicler. He details the illness and eventual demise of Pope Innocent VIII.


Pope Innocent VIII lay dying. His physician, Giacomo di San Genesio, gave him a blood transfusion orally, as the concept of intravenous circulation had not yet been invented. Three boys, age 10, agreed to this experiment after being promised a ducat each. Unfortunately but predictably, the Pope and all three boys died.

Needless to say, this tragic and brutal event (and, perhaps, a few more unrecorded transfusions) was itself infused with myth and plenty of speculations. Some claimed that Pope Innocent VIII had habitually drunk the blood of Jewish boys and that his last libation was a drink of young blood pumped out of the three non-Christian youngsters veins.


Pope Innocent VIII  after ingesting blood of young boys, at the entrance into the Heavenly Kingdom. Seriously.

Enough of history for now. After all,

Roaring 1350s

Centuries passed. Blood transfusions are performed routinely every day, and to a great benefit to people (and animals) who need them.

Even vampires are no longer quite as scary as they used to be in real life and in folks lore of the past. A great number of them in novels and movies are cool, if somewhat pale in appearance, metro-sexual creatures. On a protein rich diet of fresh blood of virginal maidens, the sexy bloodsuckers stay young forever…

600 years ago, Marsilio Ficino taught that drinking young blood is a sure-fire way to stay springy, vigorous and youthful well into an old age. It seems that the results of the latest scientific research agree with Ficino’s claim.

No, not drinking blood — bloody libations should be left to vampires and past Popes — but, well, blood sharing.

The procedure is called parabiosis. The first parabiosis experiments were conducted at Cornell University in the 1950s. Clive M. McCay and his colleagues  joined rats in pairs by stitching together the skin on their flanks. Blood vessels grew and joined the rats’ circulatory systems. The bloodstreams of the young and the old rat were now flowing as one, supplying both animals.

In a form of visual aid, parabiosis might be described and pictured something like this:


Necropsies performed after the experiment showed that the old rat benefited tremendously from the procedure — its cartilage looked “younger” than it would have otherwise and its fur shone like that of a much younger rodent. How exactly such transformations happened? The researchers had no definitive answer at the time — the actual “mechanics” of the body rejuvenating itself was still a mystery.

This might have been at least part of the reason why the technique of parabiosis fell out of favor after the 1970s.

In the past few years parabiosis has been revived and several labs are known to use it and forge ahead getting results.

In Revival of Parabiosis, Young Blood Rejuvenates Aging Microglia, Cognition the same questions asked and an attempt is made to answer them:

As the brain ages, its microglial cells turn sluggish in their task of ingesting and degrading toxic products, and the flow of blood through its micro vessels slows. Are there components in the blood that age the brain—and can renew it?

The data offered a provocative new twist on the old specter of rejuvenation with young blood. It also reflected the power of heterochronic parabiosis, a surgical protocol of conjoining the blood supply of a young and an old mouse to study complex pathophysiological processes. 

Parabiosis involves suturing the body walls of two mice together such that their capillaries fuse. The mice then live like Siamese twins joined through their blood supply. At the Zilkha conference, Wyss-Coray said that pairing an 18-month-old with a 3-month-old mouse, and letting them live together for five weeks, reversed microglial aging. (From the article.)


These two mice, one old one young, live with a shared blood supply. [Image courtesy of Tony Wyss-Coray.]

Young Blood May Hold Key to Reversing Aging  is an article in the New York Times published MAY 4, 2014.

Ageing research: Blood to blood is an article in Nature. The bi-line says: By splicing animals together, scientists have shown that young blood rejuvenates old tissues. Now, they are testing whether it works for humans.

“After the team [of researchers at Rando Lab] published its results, Rando’s phone started ringing incessantly. Some of the calls were from men’s health magazines looking for ways to build muscle; others were from people fascinated by the prospect of forestalling death. They wanted to know whether young blood extended lifespan.

But despite the hints that this was true from the 1970s, no one has yet properly tested the idea. It would be an expensive, labour-intensive experiment.” (From the article in Nature.)


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