Harvard Study: Drinking Blood Might Extend Longevity

According to new research at Harvard, the blood of the young might increase your longevity.

vampire mice

Illustration by Sarah Esteje/One Louder

Amy Wagers wants you to know, first of all, that her recent discovery does not mean it’s a good idea to go around feasting on the blood of the innocents.

Not because drinking blood is wrong,* but because it’s not very practical. “Drinking blood would not help you at all,” says Wagers, an associate professor at Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology and a principal investigator at Joslin Diabetes Center. “You’d just digest it the way you digest any other protein.”

The protein in question, known by the prosaic name “Growth Differentiation Factor Eleven,” or GDF11, abounds in the blood of young mice, but fades away with age. And its powers are apparently magical: When Wagers and her colleague Richard Lee injected GDF11 into elderly mice, the rodents developed an unexpected spring in their step. On average, treated mice got pumped up like mini Lance Armstrongs, running for longer than their control-group peers.

Wagers believes that GDF11 helps some tissues repair themselves. The next step in her research, she says, is figuring out why the body stops producing the protein, and whether that can be reversed.

If she unlocks the mystery, she and her colleagues may be well on their way to discovering the fountain of youth. But immortality doesn’t really interest her: “Our research is focused on whether we can make the years of life that we have as healthy as possible,” she says. “Not to extend life, but to make life healthier.”

To sum up: Drinking infant blood is still off the table. Aging more gracefully? Possibly.

*It is.