Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

How Young Blood May Help the Aged

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

How Young Blood May Help the Aged

Article excerpt

Be careful about going to the O2 cinema in Greenwich, London, this February: you might come across some horrors. There's "the long and winding road of arterial stiffness", for one thing, or "extracellular matrix degradation in extrinsic ageing". No one wants to see "the 'hidden' epidemic of adult Alzheimer's and neurological deaths" or "the ageing eye". No one except the delegates at the 2015 Ageing Summit, that is.

It's shocking what happens to the body as we get older. Ageing is a natural process but we don't have to accept it--and we haven't. Science has addressed nutritional issues and the causes of disease and decrepitude so successfully that life expectancy in the developed world has doubled in the past 200 years. But this was low-hanging fruit. Many questions remain. How far are we willing to go to beat ageing? What do we think, for instance, about blood-sharing rodents?

In a few labs across the world, there are mice that exist in pairs. Each has had an incision cut in its side, and the pairs have been stitched together in such a way that the healing process leaves them conjoined. Blood vessels grow between them and within a fortnight the mice are pumping each other's blood. Researchers are performing these nightmarish experiments because they offer a possible means to curing disease and reversing processes associated with ageing. And, of course, because they can.

Scientists have been doing this kind of thing for a long time. Read Samuel Pepys's diary and you will find a discussion of related experiments carried out at the Royal Society in the 1660s. A group of researchers who included Robert Hooke and Christopher Wren would regularly transfuse blood between dogs, using a quill as a cannula, to see if the transfusion altered behaviour or physical features. Pepys suggested that they extend the technique, with "the blood of a Quaker to be let into an archbishop" in order to calm religious tensions. …

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