How Our Blood Impacts Brain Aging and Alzheimer's Disease with Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray

By Longevity by Design, January 24, 2024

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In this insightful episode of Longevity by Design, hosts Dr. Gil Blander and Ashley Reaver welcome Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray, a distinguished expert in neurology and brain aging. Dr. Wyss-Coray shares his journey from a childhood fascination with nature to becoming a leading figure in neuroscience and immunology. His initial interest in farming evolved into a passion for understanding the complexities of the human brain, particularly in the context of aging and neurodegenerative diseases.

Dr. Wyss-Coray discusses his groundbreaking research on Alzheimer's disease and the aging brain. He dives into the intriguing discovery that factors in young blood can rejuvenate older brains, offering potential pathways for treating age-related cognitive decline. This revelation has significant implications for understanding and potentially mitigating the effects of aging on the brain.

The episode also explores Dr. Wyss-Coray's transition from Switzerland to the U.S., highlighting the cultural and scientific opportunities that influenced his career. His journey underscores the importance of interdisciplinary research and collaboration in advancing our understanding of complex medical challenges like Alzheimer's disease. This conversation provides a fascinating glimpse into the intersection of immunology, neurology, and the quest to unlock the secrets of longevity.


Episode highlights

  • Introduction: 0:00-1:52
  • Why Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray became a scientist: 01:53-03:05
  • Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray’s career journey studying immunology, neuroscience, and aging: 03:06-06:42
  • Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray’s personal story on why he decided to stay in the US: 06:43-11:00
  • Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray’s story on becoming the founder of three biotech companies and what they do: 11:01-14:52
  • Introduction to Dr. Wyss-Coray’s research on proteomics and organ-specific aging: 14:53-15:32
  • What is proteomics: 15:33-16:19
  • What are the SomaLogic and Olink technologies for measuring proteins: 16:20-19:17
  • What are the links between blood-based proteins, organ-specific biological aging, and chronic disease risk: 19:18-28:15
  • Is aging a disease: 28:16-30:41
  • The three waves of aging based on proteomic analysis: 30:42-37:09
  • Are changes in blood proteins the cause or effect of aging: 37:10-43:40
  • What are the effects of parabiosis and blood transfusion on gene expression and aging: 43:41-50:41
  • The future of blood transfusions and synthetic drugs for improving healthspan and preventing neurodegenerative diseases: 50:42-54:51
  • Are the effects of parabiosis or blood transfusions short-term, mid-term, or long-term: 54:42-58:59
  • Proteomics for understanding organ aging, identifying potential drug targets, and young blood transfusions for rejuvenation: 59:00-01:01:41
  • Biological aging of organs: 01:01:42-01:10:13
  • What are the effects of fat tissue or obesity on metabolic health and mortality: 01:10:14-01:11:50
  • What is the effect of accelerated brain aging on cognition and neurodegeneration: 01:11:51-01:15:36
  • What can people do themselves to identify if they have accelerated brain aging: 01:15:37-01:18:10
  • Sleep improves blood biomarkers: 01:18:11-01:18:53
  • Top tip for healthspan: 01:18:54-01:21:27

About Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray 

Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray is a D. H. Chen Distinguished Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences and the Director of the Phil and Penny Knight Initiative for Brain Resilience at Stanford University.

His lab studies brain aging and neurodegeneration with a focus on age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease. The Wyss-Coray research team discovered that circulatory blood factors can modulate brain structure and function, and factors from young organisms can rejuvenate old brains.

Dr. Wyss-Coray was voted Time Magazine's “The Health Care 50” most influential people transforming health care in 2018. He co-founded Alkahest, Inc., and several other companies targeting Alzheimer's and neurodegeneration. Dr. Wyss-Coray has been the recipient of an NIH Director's Pioneer Award, a Zenith Award from the Alzheimer's Association, and a NOMIS Foundation Award.

The immune system and Alzheimer’s disease

Early in his career, Dr. Wyss-Coray studied how the immune system impacts neurological diseases. Dr. Wyss-Coray was part of a research team that developed the first mouse models for Alzheimer’s disease, an age-related disease. His work on the immune system in Alzheimer’s mouse models revealed that modulating the immune system could either accelerate or slow disease progression. This established a clear link between the immune system and Alzheimer’s disease. These findings led Dr. Wyss-Coray to become “more and more interested in why people actually get this disease. And why is it age-related? You don’t get Alzheimer’s disease when you’re young.”

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Founding biotech companies based on research

Dr. Wyss-Coray talks about founding three biotech companies—Alkahest, Enoto, and Teal—emerging from his research on blood factors, brain aging, and neurodegeneration. He reflects on the entrepreneurial culture in the U.S., which encourages learning from failures and trying again. These companies were formed to translate his scientific discoveries into applications for improving brain aging and healthspan.

The links between proteins in the blood, organ aging, and chronic diseases

Research by Dr. Wyss-Coray and colleagues using human blood samples has led to important discoveries about the links between proteins in the blood, organ aging, and chronic diseases. In one study, health information and blood samples were obtained from participants on one occasion and again up to 15 years later. By doing this, Dr. Wyss-Coray and colleagues could see if a person was still healthy or developed a disease, what type of disease they developed, and the resulting changes in blood proteins based on health status.

There are specific proteins found in the blood that are only produced by a specific organ, such as the heart or brain. Based on the amounts or changes in the amounts of these proteins in the blood, it provides information on the function of different organs. Additionally, this information can be used to determine a person’s biological age compared to their chronological age (number of years lived) and, more specifically, the biological age of each organ. 

However, not all organs age at the same rate. Evidence from Dr. Wyss-Coray’s lab, as well as others, indicates that if a person’s biological age of an organ, such as the heart for example, is greater than their chronological age, this indicates accelerated heart aging and an increased risk of having a heart attack.

The three waves of aging

Dr. Wyss-Coray discusses changes that occur as adults age, specifically focusing on changes in the composition of blood. As people age, some proteins in the blood might go up, some might go down, and others may stay the same. Dr. Wyss-Coray and colleagues discovered that adults go through three waves of aging. Using blood samples from young to older adults, they identified significant changes or inflection points in numerous proteins at 35, 65, and 80 years of age. This suggests that a lot of human biology changes around these ages.

Aging research has generally focused on what happens in older aged adults with significant changes seen compared to young adults. The identification of the first early wave of aging around 35 years compared to younger adults in their 20s is particularly striking. Dr. Wyss-Coray says, “We don't exactly know why that is… but what our research suggests is we should really start finding out what happens at this very early time point because it's possible that this is when you know your aging trajectory of a given tissue or organ” is accelerating or not. This can help identify people at a higher risk for developing specific diseases.

“And that's, of course, what we would like to know. The earlier we can predict, you know, what happens to your body, the more likely we can intervene and, and work with an individual and, and give them advice of lifestyle changes or, or treatments that are already available,” states Dr. Wyss-Coray.

Blood factors influence brain aging

Dr. Wyss-Coray’s lab found that when they took the blood of exercised mice and put it into non-exercised mice, their brain function improved. His lab also made the remarkable discovery that blood from young mice can rejuvenate the brains of old mice. Through parabiosis experiments, where the circulatory systems of young and old mice are connected, his team found that old mice exposed to young blood rejuvenated their brains. They also identified that certain proteins present in blood change as organisms age. The composition and levels of thousands of proteins in the blood provide a window into biological age.

Clinical trials investigating potential Alzheimer’s treatments

Based on Dr. Wyss-Coray’s revolutionary findings, clinical trials are underway investigating whether plasma fractions from young donors can improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients. His discoveries revealed that detrimental factors in old blood could be inhibited or beneficial youthful factors could be enhanced to develop new Alzheimer’s therapies. The ultimate goal is to identify key proteins that drive aging and neurodegeneration.

Top tip for healthspan

Dr. Wyss-Coray’s top tip for health is to exercise. He says as long as you can exercise, it’s the best thing you can do for your health.

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Longevity by Design is a podcast for individuals looking to experience longer, healthier lives. In each episode, Dr. Gil Blander and Ashley Reaver join an industry expert to explore a personalized health journey. The show helps you access science-backed information, unpack complicated concepts, learn what’s on the cutting edge of longevity research and the scientists behind them. Tune into Longevity by Design and see how to add years to your life, and life to your years.

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