FDA warns against buying 'young blood' for treatment against aging, other diseases

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The practice sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie-- people paying big money to infuse plasma from young donors into their own aging bodies.

Some believe doing so will stop normal aging and associated conditions.

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration officially warned against the practice, going on record to say there is no evidence infusing a young person's plasma into an aging body is helpful.

"The risk really outweighed the benefits in this regard," Irina Conboy said. "We are not surprised at all."

Conboy is a Bioengineering professor and researcher at UC Berkeley. She and her husband, UC Berkeley researcher Michael Conboy, have fielded many questions about the so-called "young blood" practice.

The Conboy's explained there is science to suggest there may be factors in "young blood" that affect aging and aging-related disease. However, experts emphasize those are studies done in mice.

The FDA says treatment in humans comes without any clinical evidence young plasma infusions are effective. There is also no official regulation on dosage, frequency or recommended monitoring.

The Conboy's also stress, there is always significant risk with any blood transfusion.

"The blood products you get from somebody," Michael Conboy explained, "their antibodies and their immune components in the blood you're getting can react against you."

In this case, plasma is at the center of the process. Plasma is the liquid part of blood, which contains proteins to help blood clot.

Gordon Lithgow is a Professor and Chief Academic Officer at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. He told ABC7 News, "There's some good science at the heart of it, but then other people with potentially a profit motive, and people who are desperate for cures and prevention- that all comes together and it's kind of the perfect storm."

One start-up company, called Ambrosia, promised a number of benefits from treatment, using plasma from young donors 16 to 25-years-old.

However, cures, remedies and a retail price of $8,000 per unit was replaced with the following message on the Ambrosia website, Tuesday:

"In compliance with the FDA announcement issued February 19, 2019, we have ceased patient treatments."

The start-up was founded by a Stanford Medical School graduate, Jesse Karmazin.

The company was infusing patients across five cities, including San Francisco.

ABC7 News has reached out to Ambrosia for additional comment.

Before Tuesday, the company claimed transfusions could combat memory loss from aging, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a press release, they have "significant public health concerns about the promotion and use of plasma" to battle conditions similar to those mentioned by Ambrosia.

The statement by the FDA read, "Today, we're alerting consumers and health care providers that treatments using plasma from young donors have not gone through the rigorous testing that the FDA normally requires in order to confirm the therapeutic benefit of a product and to ensure its safety."

"As a result, the reported uses of these products should not be assumed to be safe or effective. We strongly discourage consumers from pursuing this therapy outside of clinical trials under appropriate institutional review board and regulatory oversight," the statement continued.

"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," the FDA statement said. "Such treatments have no proven clinical benefits for the uses for which these clinics are advertising them and are potentially harmful. There are reports of bad actors charging thousands of dollars for infusions that are unproven and not guided by evidence from adequate and well-controlled trials."

Lithgow with the Buck Institute for Research on Aging told ABC7 News, "We should not shy away from the science, because it does provide hope for therapies, and Cancer and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and so on, but we've got to do it right."

"This is not the right way to do it," he said about the "young blood" transfusions.

Read the full-text of the FDA's statement here.
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