Neuroscience Across The Curriculum
Young Blood for Old Brains” lecture by Tony Wyss-Coray, Ph.D.
Sitting in the Life Science’s Center, Tony Wyss-Coray listened patiently as my fellow students and I working in Professor Masino and Ruskin’s lab talked about our own research projects. He asked questions that were both scholarly and though provoking, as expected from as Professor at Stanford University. Right across from him sat his daughter, Livia Wyss, a junior neuroscience major who has been working with ketogentic diet and it’s effect on inflammation in rodent models. Wyss-Coray listened, enthusiastically, to his daughter speak before steering the conversation towards his own life as a scientist.
Wyss-Coray explained that in his home of Switzerland, he grew up fascinated by science, most specifically by plants. However, he realized at a young age that his interest in plants was more of a pastime than a potential career. Instead, Wyss-Coray was swayed to study immunology by a particularly captivating professor. In terms of our scientific understanding of immunology, Wyss-Coray could not have begun research at a more fascinating time than the AIDS pandemic, which was initially recognized in the early 1980s. In 1993, his research on HIV related dementia led him to American where worked at Scripps Research Institute and later Stanford University’s medical school where he works currently as a Professor of Neurology. Today he studies blood plasma and it’s role in Alzheimer’s disease, which he talked about during his lecture this past Tuesday.
Wyss-Coray began his talk by introducing a study of parabiosis in which the vascular system of an old mouse was surgically attached to that of a young mouse. The artificial joining allowed for the blood of the young mouse to flow to the old mouse and vice versa. Remarkably, it was found that the brain of the old mouse looked younger when exposed to the younger environment. In such context, the term younger is defined as the creation of new neurons, higher synaptic activity, higher levels of genes involved in memory, and less inflammation in the brain.
When applied to humans, the parabiotic experiment opened the doors for many other age related studies. Wyss-Coray stated that as human’s age neurodegeneration is inevitable. Yet, it seems that infusing the blood or cord plasma of young humans into older humans with Alzheimer’s disease helps temporarily rejuvenate the brain by increasing neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity most noticeably in the hippocampus, a region associated with learning and memory. It seems to Wyss-Coray such neural transformation is due to the growth factors within the young plasma.
The research suggests that the human brain at every age is malleable. Such idea is an optimistic concept as it suggests that certain parameters such as plasma growth factors can help improve cognitive ability and delay neural degeneration. Although Wyss-Coray recognizes that the currently fountain of youth concept is unattainable, his research suggests that there are potential ways to delay the process of neural degeneration and prolong cognitive youth even as you age. Overall, Wyss-Coray’s research is ground breaking as it provides a possible way to deal with pervasive degenerative diseases and improve the quality of life for many individuals.