Human umbilical blood injected into mouse brains appears to rejuvenate them and boost the cognitive performance of older mice, said Stanford researchers who are now trying to figure out how that relates to human disorders like Alzheimer's disease.
The Stanford University School of Medicine study, published in detail in the journal Nature, said a protein contained in the umbilical cord seemed to boost the brain function.
The researchers identified age-associated changes in a number of proteins when comparing blood plasma in the umbilical cord from 19- to 24-year-olds, and 61- to 82-year-olds.
The changes, the investigators believe, might affect a brain structure called the hippocampus, which is critical for converting experiences into long-term memories in humans and mice.
The hippocampus is one of the first areas of the brain attacked by Alzheimer's disease and other age-related illnesses. The protein, called tissue inhibitor of metalloproteases 2, or TIMP2, is abundant in human cord blood but decreasingly so with advancing age.
"The really exciting thing about this study, and previous studies that have come before it, is that we've sort of tapped into previously unappreciated potential of our blood – our plasma – and what it can do for reversing the harmful effects of aging on the brain," Joe Castellano, a neuroscientist at Stanford University School of Medicine, told National Public Radio.
Tony Wyss-Coray, a Stanford regenerative scientist and the senior author of the study, said that identifying TIMP2 as a protein that can alter the activity of the hippocampus as well as complex behavior in mice is one step, said the Los Angeles Times.
Wyss-Coray said proving the protein can be an effective agent of neural regeneration in humans can be more difficult. He said, though, it could be an important waystation on the path to showing its potential in humans.
He said it could take five to 10 years to develop a process of producing it, purifying it as a treatment, and testing it extensively in humans.
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