There’s something sinister sounding about wealthy, older individuals buying the blood of young people and injecting it to absorb vitality and rejuvenate their own health. It sounds vaguely vampiristic; dark and bizarre like something an aging Dracula might do in his spare time — hook up an IV, kick back in the castle library with a hematology journal and relax as fresh young blood courses through your body.
Grim as that procedure sounds, it is a real thing, a practice that Jesse Karmazin is building a business out of.
Karmazin is the owner and founder of Ambrosia Health, a California-based startup that specializes in what he calls, “plasma therapy,” where patients over 30 years old are injected with blood from donors between the ages of 16 and 25. Despite massive controversy and an unnerving lack of research, at the beginning of this year Ambrosia Health opened up five clinics in locations around the country.
“I feel like I should say there's nothing unusual about what we're doing,” says Karmazin. “It's very much a normal medical procedure.”
A for-profit medical procedure that costs a mere $8000 per pint and is theoretically supposed to rejuvenate an aging body and mind by replenishing its plasma (that yellowish fluid between the actual red and white blood cells).
“I worked at the National Institutes of Health on a project on aging, and that got me really interested in treating aging as a disease,” explains Karmazin. During his time at Stanford medical school he learned of a process known as “parabiosis,” something straight out of the medical dark arts. Something that had only ever been tested and observed in mice in one experiment that could have been devised by Dr. Frankenstein himself.
In the experiment, scientists surgically connected older mice with younger mice, sewing their circulatory systems together so they shared a blood flow. For five weeks they let these conjoined rodents survive like that, observing their neurological health as each mouse pumped the other’s blood.
And, surprisingly, the results were promising. The researchers concluded that, “Factors in young blood have the potential to ameliorate disease in a model of AD [Alzheimer’s disease].”
It wasn’t definitive proof that the procedure was health positive — far from it — but it was hopeful. And it was enough to get the gears inside Karmazin’s mind turning.
“So, as a physician I began to wonder … could we do a blood transfusion to have the same effects in humans as was seen in parabiosis in mice?”
That’s a question that still remains unanswered, even though Ambrosia Health clinics are now up and running in California, Florida, Nebraska and Texas. Karmazin says that they’ve been running clinical trials since 2016 and they are soon to publish their results.
Until they do, though, the evidence supporting plasma therapy for humans is almost all anecdotal.
“The patients really like the treatment. It feels good. They feel younger and more energetic and healthier and they say their memory is better and their muscle strength is improved,” assures Karmazin. Adding that patients with serious illnesses like Alzheimer’s, heart disease and diabetes show potential signs of improvement as well.
If he’s right, Karmazin may have stumbled onto the fountain of youth itself — a fountain of youth’s blood. If his plasma therapy can actually do all the things he hopes and says it can, he may have found a bonafide cure for aging, the holy grail of medicine.
Many working physicians (which, it’s worth noting, Karmazin is not) aren’t quite sold yet. Edward Dent, a physician at Colorado Mountain Medical says that it sounds like “total BS.”
“One study on mice then they are going charge you thousands for this ‘therapy?’ Wow.” Dent says, skeptically. “I think new ideas are great but you really need to go through the scientific process to see if your hypothesis works.”
The Ambrosia Health website doesn’t exactly scream of authenticity, either. A handful of stock nature photos are interspersed with a quick two-paragraph description of their business. Below that, there’s a PayPal payment button where you can choose between two pricing options: $8000/1 pint; $12,000/2 pints.
Which begs the question: where is all this plasma coming from? Is there some kind of farm of young people out there, all hooked up to I.V.’s, getting bled like cows getting milked, all to preserve the youth of the rich and elderly?
That’s a big misconception, says Karmazin. They get their plasma from blood banks, where it’s carefully screened for diseases like HIV and hepatitis. “There's just such an abundant amount of blood being donated every day in the US that it's really no problem for a small amount of it to be used for this interesting new therapy.”
So, Karmazin knows that the blood they’re getting is disease-free and safe to use. Which is good news for any prospective plasma seekers out there (if a little odd, considering that the market price for a pint of plasma is only about $500).
But how about the physical health of the donors? Surely if someone is paying $8000-12,000 for a young blood transfusion, they’re going to want blood from a prime specimen. Someone fit; someone diet-conscious. Like a vegan with a running obsession. Or maybe a crossfitt junky who maintains a constant state of ketosis. I’m talking organic, healthy, free-range health nuts — top notch, high quality blood from the healthiest among us.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Karmazin says, agreeing that there probably is a difference in the plasma of a healthy person versus someone who is in poor shape. “But gosh, there's just no way for us to do that kind of selection.”
They know next to nothing of the donors besides their age and blood type, he says. Whether or not the donors exercised, had a good diet and/or generally took care of their own hygiene and health is a roll of the dice.
Regardless, if Karmazin can prove that this therapy is even mildly effective, older people who can afford to do it are going flock to buy into it. He’ll fill his five new clinics with aging patients quietly getting pumped full of young blood, cashing in on their fear of the inevitable. Lives will lengthen and the rich and established will stay that way for as long as they’ve got access to a fresh supply of plasma.
Which doesn’t necessarily seem like a good thing. Forget metaphors — plasma therapy would literally give the dying rich one last chance to bleed life out of the young and lively. Not through minimum wage jobs or student loans this time, but directly, intravenously.
And that seems dark, even if it is technically a “normal medical procedure.”