Scientists still haven’t found the fountain of youth. And you shouldn’t pay thousands of dollars to anyone who promises otherwise.
That’s the message from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which warned consumers on February 19 against buying infusions of young plasma to counter aging, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and a variety of other ailments.
“Simply put, we’re concerned that some patients are being preyed upon by unscrupulous actors touting treatments of plasma from young donors as cures and remedies. Such treatments have no proven clinical benefits” and could even cause harm, the FDA statement reads.
Plasma is the honey-colored component of blood that contains clotting factors, antibodies and thousands of other proteins that keep the body healthy. Early hints that plasma might also contain anti-aging proteins spurred the California-based company Ambrosia Health, founded in 2016, to sell 1-liter infusions of plasma from young people for $8,000, or 2 liters for a discounted $12,000. After the FDA issued its statement, the company replaced the price list on its website with a note saying it has ceased patient treatments. FDA spokeswoman Megan McSeveney declined to say whether the FDA’s statement was prompted by Ambrosia’s business.
It’s possible that factors found in the plasma of young people may counter certain aspects of aging, but studies of the effects have so far been done mostly in mice. When it comes to people, “the data are not there,” says oncologist Patrick Hu, who studies aging at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville. “We don’t know if the product can do anything because it hasn’t been tested.”
Still, there are reasons to be excited about young plasma research. In 2014, scientists found that young plasma or blood had rejuvenating effects on old mice, results that were published in three papers (SN: 5/31/14, p. 8). Those findings are “impressive and provocative,” Hu says. “There is certainly an effect, and it’s worth studying.”
Those early results led to the formation of biotechnology company Alkahest, in San Carlos, Calif., where scientists are working to figure out which specific plasma ingredients may confer benefits.
“There is a lot of fascination with this,” says Alkahest CEO Karoly Nikolich. Yet “in our view, plasma itself is not a practical solution, definitely not a solution for the masses.” Whole plasma can contain clotting factors and other proteins that might cause trouble in a recipient. Finding key plasma proteins that help with certain aspects of aging could lead to the development of targeted drugs.
With that goal in mind, Alkahest is conducting a clinical trial testing the effects of a more purified version of young plasma on people with Alzheimer’s disease. The company expects preliminary results from that trial later this year, says Elizabeth Jeffords, Alkahest’s chief commercial and strategy officer. The company is also recruiting people with Parkinson’s disease for a similar trial, to see if a purified form of young plasma might ease some symptoms. Meanwhile, a small clinical trial of nine Alzheimer’s patients published in the January JAMA Neurology found that plasma infusions are safe.
“It’s conceivable that there is a benefit,” Hu says. “But I think it’s irresponsible to tell people there is.”