Could Umbilical Cord Blood Rejuvenate Brains’ Memory Functions?

When a baby comes into the world, the umbilical cord usually gets thrown away. But now scientists have discovered that they can reverse memory and learning problems in mice by using infusions of a protein found in human umbilical cord blood.

Parents already have the option of donating their child’s cord blood to blood banks. The stem cells are frozen for future use in treating various types of cancer and genetic disorders; but the liquid portion of the blood, the plasma, gets discarded. Neuroscientist Tony Wyss-Coray, however, thought that there had to be some redeeming value in the plasma. [1]

How Umbilical Cord Blood Could One Day Heal the Brain

As it turns out, a component of young blood might be the fountain of youth for aging brains that are losing their ability to create and retain memories. Wyss-Coray, along with his team of neurosurgeons at Stanford University Medical Center, say that cord blood rejuvenates the hippocampus in the brains of old mice. The hippocampus is a brain area that is vital for learning and memory.

However, Wyss-Coray says using actual cord blood plasma “is not something you’d ever want to develop as a treatment” because it’s “very cumbersome and difficult to collect.” But by identifying specific beneficial molecules in the plasma, Wyss-Coray hopes to be able to develop treatments for Alzheimer’s and other memory-loss diseases. The team has already identified one potentially useful protein called TIMP2. [1]

When older mice were given the umbilical cord blood treatments, they acted like younger mice in a series of behavioral tests – they escaped a maze faster than before the treatments, had better memories, and started building nests again – something the rodents typically stop doing as they grow old. [2]

Read: Cord-Blood Transplants Provide Fresh Hope for Leukemia Patients

The discovery was made when Wyss-Coray and his colleagues noticed that there were unusually high levels of TIMP2 in cord blood compared with blood from older people. When they injected TIMP2 into the older mice, they saw amazing results.

The other researchers say the results of the study, published in Natureshould be interpreted with caution. Rob Howard, professor of old age psychiatry at University College London, says that Alzheimer’s research shows that everything works in mice, but so far scientists haven’t had any luck replicating results in humans. He explains:

“Having taken that on [sic] board, this is a really interesting way to understand how we might help people who are aged or in the early stages of the disease.” [2]

But even if the protein therapy using umbilical cord blood doesn’t reverse aging or stop Alzheimer’s, scientists are hopeful that it may boost what’s left of the remaining healthy brain and perhaps offset age-associated decline.


[1] The Atlantic

[2] The Guardian

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Daily Dose of This Plant Could Reverse Age-Related Decline in the Brain

The findings of a Yahoo News/Marist poll show that people over the age of 69 generally don’t have positive views of marijuana. While the majority of younger Americans increasingly view marijuana as a legitimate medication and relatively acceptable recreational substance, the older crowd has been slower to adopt these views. In a twist of irony, a recent study shows that a daily dose of cannabis could reverse age-related brain decline in older people.

In the study, using mice, researcher Andreas Zimmer of the University of Bonn in Germany gave low doses of THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, to young, mature, and aged mice. The young mice performed slightly worse on memory and learning tests – no one was shocked by that result. The rodents took longer to find a safe platform hidden in a water maze, and had a more difficult time recognizing another mouse they’d previously “met.” [1]

Before receiving THC, the mature and aged mice performed worse on the tests than the younger mice did. Once they received the compound, however, the elderly mice’s performance improved so much that their test scores matched those of their younger counterparts.

Zimmer says:

“The effects were very robust, very profound.”

The changes were also visible in the mice’s brains. The researchers noticed that the critters’ hippocampus – the area of the brain that is critical for learning and memory – had grown more synaptic spines, the points of contact for communication between neurons. Furthermore, radical changes were seen in the gene expression pattern in the hippocampi of the aged mice treated with THC, rendering their brains completely different from those of the young, untreated mice.

Zimmer explains:

“That is something we absolutely did not expect: the old animals [that received] THC looked most similar to the young, untreated control mice.”

The researchers have a theory as to why marijuana rejuvenates aging mice brains. Marijuana stimulates the endocannabinoid system, a biochemical pathway that slows with age in mice, humans, and other animals. But there is no guarantee that these results can be replicated in humans. [2]

Source: Collective Evolution

David Nutt, the former government drugs adviser and professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, says:

“The key question now is does the same apply to humans? Clearly this needs to be tested, but it will not be possible in the UK due to the ridiculous restrictions on cannabis research occasioned by its being a schedule 1 drug.”

Related: 4 Studies Proving That Marijuana Can Treat Brain Cancer

Michael Bloomfield, a clinical lecturer in psychiatry at University College London, notes:

“What is particularly exciting about this research is that it opens up a whole new chemical system, the endocannabinoid system, as a potential target for new avenues of research, which could include illnesses like dementia. However, we are still in very early days and further research is needed.”


Cannabis hasn’t been intensely studied for medical purposes for very long, and it’s going to be tricky teasing out details, like how much of a dose is considered ideal. According to Bloomfield, THC sometimes has the opposite of the desired effect on people, depending on the dose, the patient’s age, and how often it is administered.

“This means that the possibility of doctors potentially prescribing cannabis, THC or similar compounds for memory problems in older people is still a long way off.”

So, it will likely be years before doctors are able to accurately prescribe marijuana for aging brains, but it’s an exciting possibility that could make the Golden Years much happier for senior citizens.

Andreas Bilkei-Gorzo, a researcher at the University of Bonn, is hopeful that marijuana can help people squeeze more years out of their life. [3]

“If we can rejuvenate the brain so that everybody gets five to 10 more years without needing extra care then that is more than we could have imagined.”

The study is published in the journal Nature.


[1] Scientific American

[2] The Guardian

[3] Daily Caller

Collective Evolution

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