Post-exercise blood could help fight dementia

Scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology are tapping into the idea that the chemicals released into the bloodstream after exercise have rejuvenating properties that can help protect the brain.

It comes in the wake of research that has shown regular exercise is a lifestyle choice that effectively reduces the chances of developing dementia. Researchers believe some of the benefits could be transferred via a blood transfusion and are undertaking a year-long trial of the technique.

Some 60 participants who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s are being given monthly blood transfusions from runners so that scientists can analyse the effects. The blood is being collected from 30 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 40 who run on a treadmill until they become exhausted.

The blood is then processed to avoid contamination and 200ml is transfused into the patients each month. They range in age from 50 to 75 and have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s after showing signs of mild cognitive impairment.

Monitoring of the participants will continue for five years, with their brain volume, blood flow and disease markers all taken into consideration. These measurements will be compared against a placebo group given a saline solution instead of blood.

James Rowe, a professor of cognitive neurology at the University of Cambridge, told Mail Online: “It is a very interesting idea. It may raise eyebrows, but there is serious science here, and we know that taking exercise lowers risk. We await the results with interest, and in the meantime, those of us who can, should be taking more exercise because we know it is one way we can all reduce the risk.”

Scientists have so far been unable to definitively pinpoint the exact cause of dementia and there are a number of theories that are being explored further. Among them is the idea that exercise leads to complex chemical changes in the blood, which affect the brain and combat age-related and disease-related changes associated with dementia.

A study carried out by scientists at Stanford University in 2020 identified these chemical changes, so it’s a relatively new line of investigation. They measured the blood levels of 17,662 molecules before and after individuals exercised for ten minutes and analysed the difference.

Specific changes occurred in more than half of cases, with some compounds increasing and others dropping. These molecules had roles in diverse areas of the body, affecting the functions of everything from the immune system to tissue repair and inflammation.

Building on this research, the blood transfusion trial aims to recreate such changes in the blood to benefit the cognitive function of those with early onset dementia. The results of the trial could open up a new area of treatment for dementia.