A recent Stanford medical study may have unlocked a new opportunity to combat the deterioration of the brain due to age. The focus of the study was to determine the viability of revitalizing brain function by injecting umbilical cord blood into a patient with decreased brain function. The research conducted a series of tests on mice to determine the plausibility of using such a method on aging human patients.
Changes Due to Age
As a person ages, their body continually changes. From birth, a human’s body changes immensely as they grow. However, the research study suggests that after birth, as the person ages, there are several proteins that decrease in number and strength in the body. The researchers theorize that this causes changes in the body that then degrades memory over time.
The changes in these proteins in the body may also affect the hippocampus, which is a structure in the brain that functions by taking a person’s experiences and transforming them into memories. The hippocampus is directly affected by advanced age. As someone ages their hippocampus will begin to lose its strength and nerve cells, and will start to shrink, making it harder for the structure to perform its necessary tasks.
For the trials, the researchers conducted their experiments on lab mice. Mice possess a hippocampus that functions the same as those of humans. For their experiment, the research team used older mice that had a degraded hippocampus to mimic the experiences of older adult human patients. They subjected the mice to stress tests that also tested each mouse’s ability to remember.
The team injected the subject mice with three types of plasma, derived from the blood of older adults, young-adults, and umbilical cords. The results showed that the hippocampus function of the mice who received the umbilical cord plasma increased significantly. Meanwhile, the function of the mice who received the young-adult plasma increased a moderate amount. The mice who were injected with plasma from older adults obtained no increase in hippocampus function.
Umbilical Cord Blood
It was clear to the researchers that the umbilical cord blood possessed strong attributes that allowed it to so significantly strengthen the hippocampus function of the tested mice. The researchers were able to deduce the cause for the change in the brain function of the mice.
The team determined that the umbilical cord blood worked so effectively due to the presence of certain proteins in the blood. Specifically, the group determined that the protein tissue inhibitor of metalloproteases 2 (TIMP2) was the protein responsible for the increased brain function.
To test their theory, the researches injected pure TIMP2 into test mice. The results that they derived from this experiment were identical to the results gained from the experiment where the mice were injected with umbilical cord plasma.
Encouraged by this, the team then tested their hypothesis by injecting umbilical cord plasma absent of TIMP2 into mice. This resulted in no change to brain function. This led the researches to conclude that it was TIMP2 alone that was improving the brain function of the mice. Joseph Castellano, PhD, who was the lead author on the project, elaborated, “In our study, it mimicked the memory and learning effects we were getting with cord plasma. And it appeared to do that by improving hippocampal function.”
The research shows that it may be possible to reverse the effects of aging upon the human brain. As mice and humans both have a hippocampus, and the mice responded so well to the TIMP2 testing, it may be possible obtain the same results in human patients. Stanford is pursuing this further, as they have filed for patents in regards to the findings of their study.