Just as plant stems provide support, nourishment and allow for reproduction, so do certain cells within the human body.
Stem cells are cells that do not perform any specific task, but are able to self-regenerate and develop into other cells. Research into the capabilities of stem cells is predicted to transform the future of medicine because of their amazing ability to reform damaged and diseased organs; thereby, curing debilitating and terminal diseases.
Ballooning healthcare costs due to a large aging population have resulted in stem cell studies of age-related conditions such as arthritis, cardiovascular diseases and dementia. One such study has possibly provided insight into a treatment for aging.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center genetically altered mice to make them age, causing them to become old and frail in just seventeen days. The scientists then injected stem cells taken from the muscles of young, healthy mice into the aged mice; in the end, the rapidly aging mice survived three times as long as the scientists expected. They lived for 66 days instead of 28 days. The stem cell injections appeared to have prolonged the life of the aged mice by 'reversing' the aging process.
Co-author of the study, Johnny Huard, professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine described his reaction to the study results. He told MSNBC, “It was mind boggling. When I saw them I though, ‘Oh my God, I must have made a mistake and put the normal mice in the wrong cage.’ But they were indeed the mice we’d injected with the stem cells.”
The results of this groundbreaking study were published in the Nature Communications journal and detailed in a recent ABC News article. The researchers are hoping to prove that aging is reversible, a concept straight out of a Hollywood film.
Scientists have long concluded that animals and humans begin to age when stem cells lose the ability to restore and renew the tissues of the body. Thus, it has been hypothesized that diseases and conditions associated with aging can be combated by injection of an individual’s own stem cells.
One of the authors of the study, Laura Niedernhofer, told ABC News, "The beauty of them [stem cells] is we can take them out of muscle and expand them so we have a useful therapeutic population of cells. If all of us could be treated with our own cells, we could eliminate problems with rejection and immunity."
Others in the medical community agree with Niedernhofer. Studies on how to treat humans with their own muscle cells are already underway.
The injections not only appeared to prolong the lives of the mice, but the mice seemed healthier with improved blood flow to the brain and strengthen muscles. "The young stem cells seem to secrete something that is quite beneficial," Niedernhofer said. "Just what that is, we're not entirely sure."
She explained the stem cell injections did not rebuild the bones of the mice, but they did improve the overall health of their bodies. Niedernhofer and her colleagues are hoping that the results will provide information on "how to stay healthy and functional" as we age.
However, some scientists are viewing the results with caution. They don't believe that the success of a preclinical study of aging in animals can determine the success of a study with humans. "One must be very cautious in extending findings in mouse progeroid models to normal human aging," said Dr. Amy Wagers, associate professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard University.
Wagers is referring to the fact that the mice had a condition called progeria, which caused them to age rapidly. This progressive aging is different from normal aging; thus, Wagers did not feel that the results were "relevant to natural aging symptoms".
Dr. Curt Freed was also not impressed by the study.
He said, "Because the transplants have added only 30 days to these animals' short lives, the results are interesting, but are hardly a turnaround in this devastating disease model. The transplants are not curing the disease,"
Freed, a professor and head of clinical pharmacology at the University of Colorado at Denver, does not believe that the results would be of use in "modifying the aging process in humans."
The researchers of the study have warned that the findings will not lead to a "fountain of youth" or will cure aging, but could guide scientists in future explorations into the body’s natural aging process.
To learn more about stem cell therapy, contact a doctor near you.
The information on this site is not a substitute for diagnosis or treatment from a licensed medical practitioner. If you are experiencing a serious medical condition call your local emergency services or your doctor.