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Scientists may one day slow down aging with a simple injection of youthful stem cells. They’ve just proven this can be done in mice, according to a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications.
The mice, which had been engineered to mimic a human disease called progeria, would normally have grown old when they were quite young. But that changed when researchers injected muscle stem cells from healthy young mice into the bellies of the quickly aging mice. Within days, the doddering and frail mice began to act like they were living the story line of The Strange Case of Benjamin Button as they started looking and acting younger.
“It was mind-boggling,” said study co-author Johnny Huard, a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “When I saw them I thought, ‘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.”
Normal mice live about two years, Hoard explained. But mice with progeria age very quickly and die by the time they are 21 days old. Somehow the muscle stem-cells from the younger mice managed to reverse that premature aging process—at least temporarily.
The stem cell-injected mice didn’t live as long as normal mice, but they did survive about three times as long as they would have without the treatment. Huard suspects if he re-injected the mice, they would live even longer.