On paper at least, our bodies carry the capacity to refurbish our organs. Unfortunately, as you blow out the candles on another birthday cake, it is clear that our stem cells are not always fulfilling their potential.
The question is why stem cells fail us in our old age ?
Progeria allows us to peak into aging
Waiting for animals to age naturally takes too long, so researchers interested in studying aging often study the aging disease known as progeria.
Progeria is the very rare inherited condition where individuals age extremely rapidly – so a 10 year old has a body reminiscent of someone living in an old age home.
Scientists have been able to insert the gene which is defective in progeria into mice, creating mice that become old before their time. Progeria mice die of old age around 21 to 28 days i.e. they die of old age when they are 1 month old.
Defunct stem cells in progeria
When researchers look at the state of stem cells in a mice suffering from progeria, these cells are underperforming.
As expected, the stem cells behave like stem cells isolated from very old mice i.e. there are few cells circulating, their replication is very slow and they fail regenerate damaged tissue.
But, the stem cells are still capable….
Old stem cells have just lost their spark
When researchers from the University of Pittsburgh injected mice suffering from progeria with a shot of healthy stem cells from normal animals, the animals perked up.
They lived a lot longer – some of the animals lived beyond 66 days.
They lived a lot “happier” because they didn’t lose as much muscle mass so there was less trembling and slow, awkward movements.
The pick up was not because the healthy young stem cells stepped up to the plate and performed stem cell tasks.
The improvement was mediated by the tired barely functioning stem cells of the progeria mice.
Young stem cells provide the spark
The research team think the healthy stem cells were able to produce a chemical cocktail that put the spark back into the “old” stem cells.
The exact identity of these chemicals is still a mystery, but experiments performed in the lab confirm that hanging around young stem cells can invigorate old stem cells.
Put the essence of youth in a bottle
For years experts have advocated hanging around younger people as a strategy to maintain youth.
The idea being youthful patterns of behaviour some how rub off . The principle may apply at a cellular level as well.
Let’s hope they figure out how to bottle the essence of youth someday soon.Muscle-derived stem/progenitor cell dysfunction limits healthspan and lifespan in a murine progeria model. Nature Communications (2012) 3: 608. Mitra Lavasani, Andria R. Robinson, Aiping Lu, Minjung Song, Joseph M. Feduska, Bahar Ahani, Jeremy S. Tilstra, Chelsea H. Feldman, Paul D. Robbins, Laura J. Niedernhofer, Johnny Huard.
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