Nov. 6 (UPI) -- Blood plasma transfusions achieved promising results as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease in a small clinical trial. Patients in the trial experienced no serious side effects, and some showed signs of improvement.
Scientists at Stanford University set out to test the efficacy of blood transfusions on a small number of patients with Alzheimer's disease. Researchers wanted to find out if the results of an earlier Stanford study -- which showed blood from young mice helped older mice rejuvenate brain tissue -- could be replicated in humans.
Blood transfusions are commonly used to treat a variety of ailments, so researchers expected the treatment would prove safe for humans. Scientists were more surprised by the early signs of efficacy.
The trial included 18 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. The first nine participants were given either plasma from the blood of healthy young adults or a saline placebo infusion every four weeks for three months.
After three months, those receiving the placebo were given plasma, and those receiving plasma were given the placebo. The participants were unaware of whether they received a plasma or placebo infusion. The second nine participants were all given plasma infusions and told so.
Before, during and after the trial, patients were surveyed about their mood and given cognitive assessments. Researchers also tested each participant's functional ability -- their ability to perform day-to-day tasks, like remembering to take their medicine or fixing themselves a meal.
Scientists found patients showed no discernible improvements in their ability to memorize lists or recall past events. Alzheimer's studies usually require at least a year of observations to identify improvements in cognitive ability.
The latest clinical trial did, however, reveal slight improvements in patients' functional abilities.
"That was surprising, to me," Dr. Sharon Sha, a clinical associate professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford, said in a news release. "The trial wasn't powered to show efficacy."
The study authors suggest additional larger, longer studies are needed to confirm and expand on their results.
"Our enthusiasm concerning these findings needs to be tempered by the fact that this was a small trial," Sha said. "But these results certainly warrant further study."