Baby boomers, long accustomed to the ethos of youth, have a hard time accepting their inevitable ageing, especially when it involves the onset of serious neurodegenerative pathologies like Alzheimer’s Disease. Apart from trying countless, varied drug and Wellness interventions, which include a healthier diet and exercise, some worried adults are spending a lot of money in non-FDA approved therapies like transfusions of plasma. In a February 2019 warning, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) informed consumers that they should be very wary of those providers and clinics that offer “miracle cures” with young plasma.
The FDA warning did not exclude the possibility that “plasma transfusions” might eventually become a valid therapeutic tool , after conducting carefully designed peer-reviewed clinical trials under the supervision of institutional review boards and strong regulatory oversight. The practice has risks. The use of transfusions can produce infections, allergic reactions, circulatory volume overload and the danger of botched maneuvers.
In the July 2019 issue of AMA Neurology, Dr. Sharon Sha et al, from the prestigious Stanford University, informed the results of a small study that involved 10 participants with Alzheimer’s disease; nine individuals got four weekly infusions of the plasma fraction under a protocol of the double blind crossover and nine other individuals got four weekly infusions under an open label. The researchers found that the plasma infusions were safe and tolerable for all the participants. Dr. Sha found that even though there was not a clinically significant improvement in their mood and cognitive alterations, there was some improvement in their cognitive abilities, which eased the burden of the caregivers.
This pioneering Stanford trial was funded by Alkahest, a California biotechnology company that was co-founded by Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray, a Stanford neuroscientist who invented a technique. Parabiosis is the study of the circulatory changes when a young mouse is connected to an old one; the surgical technique allowed the exchange of blood and its derivatives in both directions. Alexander Eggel and Wyss-Coray found that the old mice that received the plasma improved their ratings in the memory testing using the maze techniques and the histochemical studies of their brains showed increased plasticity, which is a hallmark for good synaptic activity in learning and memory.
Are all the components of young plasma responsible for these results or is it produced by fractions? Alkahest has designed a “selected plasma fraction” from the processing of pooled plasma and at present is testing two of those in three Phase 2- clinical trials for chronic diseases; it is also testing a small molecule-inhibitor in the treatment of macular degeneration, which produces blindness. In a scientific meeting in Barcelona about Clinical Trials in Alzheimer’s Disease, Grifols, another biotechnology company, showed encouraging results of a clinical trial using plasma products.
Obtaining the necessary safety data about these techniques will eventually pave the way for the use of plasma fractions in many neurodegenerative diseases; however, many scientists warned that, even with the benefit of efficacy and safety features, there might not be not a “magical cure” as the nefarious components in old blood might ultimately prevail in the protracted clinical process. In a January 2018 article, Bjorn Hofmann wrote: “eternal youth and endless bliss have always been vital human dreams. Although parabiosis may brings us closer to the fountain of youth than ever, it is still too early to provide full-fledged assessments of its implications or to foresee how it will change health, aging, medicine and society.”
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