We can never know who was the first elder to wonder whether a dose of blood from somebody younger could make them young again, but I’ll bet it was near the dawn of the human race. In those days eating the victim was probably the preferred technique. Vampire mythology linked drinking blood with immortality and, of course, there was the infamous Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory who supposedly bathed in the blood of young girls (though those stories probably aren’t true). But this is 2018—we can get a blood transfusion instead.

A recent episode of the CBC science program “Quirks & Quarks” included an interview with Dr. Saul Villeda, who’s been following up on earlier research into blood-swapping in mice. The process is called parabiosis and there was some promising research in the 1970’s which showed that the vital organs and brains of older mice could be rejuvenated when the mice were surgically joined to young mice and shared the same blood. After waning in popularity, the procedure has had a resurgence in the past decade with equally encouraging results and a strong focus on learning the chemical mechanisms involved. After all, if the blood of young mice can help the regrowth of muscle and liver cells, repair damaged spinal cords, enhance the growth of new brain cells, and even make the old mice’s fur shinier, think of the implications if this could work in humans. A clinical trial involving Alzheimer patients is not yet complete, but you can imagine the excitement a positive result would bring.

Various studies have attributed the benefits to the hormone oxytocin (levels in our bodies naturally decline with age), as well as a protein called growth differentiation factor 11 and, in Villeda’s research, to another protein called Tet2. There are probably others. Most of these substances seem to do their work by activating the body’s stem cells (generic cells that can become specialized cells as needed) and by making changes to cellular DNA. It’s important to note that identifying the active components removes the need to use actual blood to get the benefits. Compounds could be synthesized in laboratories. Studies have already shown that blood plasma is effective enough without using whole blood.

But science fiction writers ask, what if…?

What if it became widely confirmed that young blood was like a fountain of youth for older people? You can get a hint from a San Francisco & Tampa company called Ambrosia—they’re conducting clinical research offering patients blood transfusions from young donors for the price of $8,000 per litre or $12,000 for two litres in an outpatient treatment they say takes about two hours. Their study results haven’t been published yet, but so far they claim, “Our patients have reported improvements in areas such as energy, memory, and skin quality.”

For now, it’s just a metaphor that the ultra-wealthy of the world are “bloodsuckers, feeding on the poor”, but that could literally come true. The rich might buy perpetual youth and longer life from those who need to sell their very blood to buy food. And that’s the rosier scenario. Something tells me that a black market wouldn’t take long to develop. Criminal elements would get involved. Blood “donors” might be unwilling victims, assaulted or killed for their young blood.

SF writers before me have imagined societies where “organ-legging” is a widespread criminal activity keeping the wealthy in replacement organs when their own fail. What if the contraband is blood? Will we have a completely stratified society between a nearly immortal elite and an underclass with venous catheters installed at birth? Will Hollywood depend on a blood ghetto to keep its stars beautiful? What would the long-term effect of such things be on the human gene pool? And how long would it take before someone tried to use such methods to create a super race?

My opinion? Better to give these researchers lots of funding so they can find the chemicals involved and replicate them in factories, rather than wait until the blood of our young people becomes a hot commodity.


I suspect people have hoped for a way to reverse aging from the time we first learned it led to infirmity and death. This week studies from two different groups of researchers revealed that older mice experienced a reversal of many symptoms of aging when transfused with the blood of younger mice. Could it be as simple as that? Could young blood be a fountain of youth? Can you imagine the ramifications?

SF and horror writers will salivate at the possibilities. After all, Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed is famously said to have bathed in the blood of young virgins to stay looking young (even if it’s probably not true). Then there’s the vampire mythology: beings immortal and forever young thanks to a blood diet. What would really happen if blood transfusions were the key to renewed youth?

First, it would be made illegal—because “illegal” is just another way of saying available to only the very rich. Of course the rich would want to keep this treatment to themselves. So a thriving black market would spring up (and young people with any sense wouldn’t venture outside except in large groups). And you can bet there’d be a huge shift of focus in the private health care industry. Eventually, though, more and more middle class folk would ransom their financial futures to get the rejuvenation treatment, one way or another, but would we really live longer? No, because the first thing we’d use all that regained youthful friskiness for would be to chase after new, more energetic sexual partners, and we’d be killed by boyfriends or our own jealous wives (especially if our transfused blood was still usable for somebody else with enough cash!) Those who didn’t fall into that trap would stay in the workforce long after their expected departure—they’d have to, to pay for the treatments—creating a huge unemployment crisis, especially among young people, who would finally become fed up with being robbed of both jobs and blood and would rebel in violence.

OK, perhaps I’m being a little overly cynical. Fortunately, these situations shouldn’t arise. You see, one of the research teams found that something in the young blood was reactivating dormant stem cells in the older mice to do as they should and produce fresh new muscle, blood vessels, neurons, and more. More testing narrowed it down to a protein called GDF11 that was doing the signaling. Injections of GDF11 alone produced good results in the older mice (although not as good as shared whole blood—so don’t give up on that horror story yet).

Needless to say, there’s no guarantee any of this will work the same way in humans, but the potential is certainly tantalizing enough to ensure that someone somewhere will do those tests. I guess I can be grateful that I’m past the age to be a desirable donor.