As you can maybe tell from buffmouse.jpg up there, this research is still in mice, but a new study out from the University of Pittsburg published in Nature Communications has big news for fans of not getting old and gross and dying. Shots of stem cells from healthy, young mice delivered to the abdomens of prematurally aging mice have been show to head off many of the effects of old age, leading to lives two to three times as long as would normally be the case. So, yes: a fountain of youth in a syringe full of stem cells. For mice.
“Our experiments showed that mice that have progeria, a disorder of premature aging, were healthier and lived longer after an injection of stem cells from young, healthy animals,” says senior investigator Laura Niedernhofer, M.D., Ph.D. “That tells us that stem cell dysfunction is a cause of the changes we see with aging.”
Stem cells are basically the cells in your body that become other kinds of cells, and do repairs within tissues by replacing damaged cells. A stem cell is a cell whose specialty is becoming another variety of more specialized cell. Every time it divides, it splits into another stem cell or some other sort of cell, like a neuron or thyroid epithelial cell or erythrocyte, e.g. a red blood cell. (Humans have about 210 different types of cells.) The researchers found that in mice with progeria, stem cells were smaller in number, didn’t replicate as well or as often, and were losing their ability to repair degenerative muscle, compared with stem cells from healthy mice.
“We wanted to see if we could rescue these rapidly aging animals, so we injected stem/progenitor cells from young, healthy mice into the abdomens of 17-day-old progeria mice,” says Dr. Johnny Huard, another senior investigator behind the experiment. “Typically the progeria mice die at around 21 to 28 days of age, but the treated animals lived far longer – some even lived beyond 66 days. They also were in better general health.”
The basic symptoms of aging in mice are pretty sad, and not all that different from in people, just, you know, much more tiny. They lose muscle, hunch over, move slow, and tremble. With a shot given before these signs of aging began, the mice kept behaving more like young, healthy mice and even grew new blood cells in their mouse brains. The weird thing is that no stem cells were found in brain tissue. After injection, the stem cells actually didn’t go anywhere else in the mice’s bodies. They just hang out and work their magic in the mice’s guts.
“This leads us to think that healthy cells secrete factors to create an environment that help correct the dysfunction present in the native stem cell population and aged tissue,” says Dr. Niedernhofer. “In a culture dish experiment, we put young stem cells close to, but not touching, progeria stem cells, and the unhealthy cells functionally improved.”
OK, then. We actually die of lots of different things, and so too do a lot of things influence our health and quality of life on Earth: being poor, for example. But there’s an allure to anti-aging medicine that goes a bit deeper than most other sorts, death-bargaining, though at the same time a lot shallower, because I bet you’re doing way more to kill yourself right now than your declining stem cells are. Stop that already.
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