As brains age, they slowly lose the ability to generate new neurons, which results in a diminishing ability to learn new things and retain memories. But today a group of neuroscientists in Florida announced a strange cure for what amounts to brain decay: blood from the umbilical cords of human infants. When the researchers injected this blood into aging rats, it kickstarted a new round of neurogenesis in their brains, helping them to grow new neurons and shed some other effects of brain aging. Essentially, effects of aging were rolled back. There's tremendous potential here for helping aging humans to regain the plasticity of their youthful minds.
A release about the study explained:
Co-author Alison Willing, PhD, of the USF Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair [said,] "The increase in neurogenesis we saw after injecting UCBCs seemed to be due to a decrease in inflammation."
According to lead author Carmelina Gemma, Ph.D., of the James A. Haley Veterans Administration Medical Center (VA) and USF, the decrease in neurogenesis that accompanies aging is a result of the decrease in proliferation of stem cells, not the loss of cells.
"In the brain, there are two stem cell pools, one of which resides in the hippocampus," explained graduate student and first author Adam Bachstetter. "As in other stem cell pools, the stem cells in the brain lose their capacity to generate new cells. A potent stressor of stem cell proliferation is inflammation."
Prior to this study, the research team led by Paula C. Bickford, Ph.D., of the VA and USF found that reducing neuroinflammation in aged rats by blocking the synthesis of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL1B rescued some of the age-related decrease in neurogenesis and improved cognitive function.
"We think that UCBCs may have a similar potential to reduce inflammation and to restore some of the lost capacity of stem/progenitor cells to proliferate and differentiate into neurons," said Dr. Bickford.
It's almost as wild as that time in Battlestar Galactica when President Roslin's cancer went into remission after she got injected with Cylon blood. Except it's real. Image from Braincells Inc.
Umbilical Cord Blood Stimulates Neurogenesis [BMC Neuroscience]