A controversial startup that charges $8,000 to fill patients’ veins with young blood is opening a clinic in NYC — but researchers whose work inspired it warn it’s dangerous

  • 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 year.
  • 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 serious conditions 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

Getty 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 positive."

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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