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Researchers say Ambrosia young blood transfusion startup is putting patient lives at risk



red blood bag transfusion donation GettyImages 115577838
A bag of red blood

Joern Pollex/Getty

  • A startup called
    Ambrosia Medical
    that charges $8,000 to fill your veins
    with the blood of young people plans to launch its
    first clinic in New York City
    at the end of this
  • Researchers who study blood transfusions called the
    procedure “dangerous” and said the idea behind it is based on
    “incorrect interpretations” of their work.
  • Founded by Stanford graduate Jesse Karmazin, the
    company recently completed the
    first clinical trial
    designed to assess the benefits of
    young blood transfusions.

    Those results have
    not been published.

Does young blood hold the keys to a long and healthy life?
Startup founder and and Stanford Medical graduate Jesse Karmazin
believes it might, so he launched a startup called
Ambrosia Medical
that fills older people’s veins with fresh
blood from young donors.

But researchers who study the procedure say it poses major risks
for patients, including an elevated risk of developing several
later in life, such as graft-versus-host disease,
which can occur when transfused blood cells attack the patient’s
own cells, and transfusion-associated lung injury.

Irina and Michael Conboy, two University of California at
Berkeley researchers who’ve published research on young blood
transfusions in mice, called Ambrosia’s plans “dangerous.”

“They quite likely could inflict bodily harm,” Irina Conboy told
Business Insider.

The Conboys’ concern stems from an awareness of what happens in
the body when it receives foreign blood from a donor.

“It is well known in the medical community — and this is also the
reason we don’t do transfusions frequently — that in 50% of
patients there are very bad side effects. You are being infused
with somebody else’s blood and it doesn’t match,” Conboy said.
“That unleashes a strong immune reaction.”

Karmazin told Business Insider that the Conboys’ statements “are
not supported by data or clinical experience.”

“Millions of plasma transfusions are performed safely in the US
each year and the FDA monitors the safety of the blood supply and
transfusions closely. We agree with the Conboys that exposure to
young plasma has potential beneficial effects. Further research
in this field at Stanford and Harvard, amongst other
institutions, indicates that ‘blood dilution’ is not responsible
for the observed effects, so it is not clear what the basis for
that statement is.”

The first clinical trial of its kind

bloodGetty Images/Joern Pollex

In 2017, Ambrosia enrolled people in the
first US clinical trial
designed to find out what happens
when the veins of adults are filled with blood from the young.

While the results of that study have not yet been made public,
Karmazin told Business Insider the results were “really

Because blood transfusions are already approved by the Food and
Drug Administration, Ambrosia’s approach has the green-light to
continue as an off-label treatment. There appears to be
significant interest: since putting up its website last week, the
company has received roughly 100 inquiries about how to get the
treatment, David Cavalier, Ambrosia’s chief operating officer,
told Business Insider. That led to the creation of the company’s
first waiting list, Cavalier said.

“So many people were reaching out to us that we wanted to make a
simple way for them to be added to the list,” Cavalier said.

With that in mind, Cavalier and Karmazin are currently scouting a
number of potential clinic locations in New York City and
organizing talks with potential investors. They hope to open the
facility by the end of this year.

“New York would be the flagship location,” Karmazin said.

Blood tranfusions are already approved by federal regulators, so
Ambrosia does not need to demonstrate that its treatment carries
significant benefits before offering it to customers.

So far, the company has already infused close to 150 patients
ranging in age from 35 to 92 with the blood of young donors,
Cavalier said. Of those, 81 were participants in their
clinical trial

The trial, which involved giving patients 1.5 liters of plasma
from a donor between the ages of 16 and 25 over two days, was
conducted with physician David Wright, who owns a private intravenous-therapy center
in Monterey
, California. Before and after the infusions,
participants’ blood was tested for a handful of biomarkers, or
measurable biological substances and processes that are thought
to provide a snapshot of health and disease.

People in the trial paid $8,000 to participate. The company
hasn’t settled on a commercial pricetag for the procedure,
Karmazin said.

Young blood and anti-aging: ‘There’s no reality here’

Conboy’s research was one of a handful of studies that initially
inspired Karmazin to pursue young blood transfusions for
anti-aging benefits.

But she told Business Insider that Karmazin’s work was based on
an “incorrect interpretation.”

“Not only is it incorrect, it’s dangerous,” Conboy said.

In 2005, Conboy pioneered a study using
parabiosis, a
150-year-old surgical technique
that connects the veins of
two living animals, to see whether the blood from a younger mouse
could have benefits on an older mouse. 

And while she did observe some benefits as a result of the
procedure, she pointed out to Business Insider that the animals
weren’t simply swapping blood — the older rodent was also reaping
the benefits of the younger one’s more vibrant internal organs
and circulatory system too. Conboy believes that — not the young
blood itself — is likely what accounted for the positive effects
she saw.

“When old and young mice are sutured together they share organs
too — including their kidneys and all the important filtering
organs,” Conboy told Business Insider. “Imagine you had a new
liver. You’d probably see benefits too.”

Conboy followed up that work with a more recent study in 2016
to see what would happen if she merely exchanged the
rodents’ blood
without connecting their bodies in any
way. She found that
while the muscle tissue in the older mice appeared to benefit
slightly from the younger blood, they still couldn’t say for sure
that these modest benefits were coming from the young blood
itself. After all, the experiment had also fundamentally changed
the older mouse blood by diluting it. 

“Something about the old blood seemed to be having a negative
effect, yes, but young blood was not capable of rejuvenation,”
Conboy said.

Michael Conboy said part of the problem is simply the fact that
there’s too much old blood for the young blood to have a
substantial effect on its own.

“Is there really something in the young blood that would override
all the negative effects from the old blood?” Conboy said. “Until
someone repeats that I’m not sure that I believe it. Even
scientists with the best of intentions can observe something
that’s a fluke.”

Meanwhile, the Conboys said there are substantial risks with
giving older people the young blood of donors. Those include a
heightened immune response which is triggered with increasing
magnitude every time the procedure is completed.

A 2012
study published in the journal Transfusion
outlines the risks
of blood transfusions and includes these risks, as does published work
from the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

“Every time you do it you’re magnifying your immune response,”
Michael Conboy said. “Reputable physicians who do this for
life-threatening conditions know this risk.”

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