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Stem Cells Reverse Aging in Mice

Posted: January 5, 2012

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Huard and his colleagues aren’t exactly sure what’s happening, but they’ve got some theories. Scientists have discovered that we grow frail when our stem cells age and lose the ability to self-repair. These “tired stem cells” divide slowly, Huard explained. He and his colleagues suspect the same thing happens, just more quickly, in mice and people with progeria.

“People with progeria look like they are in their 80s when they are 20 years old,” Huard said. “Their skin looks very wrinkled and old when they are very young.” One of the biggest surprises for Huard and his colleagues was the impact on the brain from muscle stem cells injected into the belly. Even though the cells didn’t get to the brain, they still improved its health.

“The number of blood vessels in the brains of progeria mice are significantly reduced,” Huard said. “But when you inject stem cells from a normal mouse into the belly of the progeria mouse, the number of blood vessels increases.” That means that the normal stem cells must be releasing some kind of protein that spurs the growth of healthy cells, Huard said.

Huard can see the big implications of his research. “There’s a lot of money being spent in the world trying to delay aging,” he said. “It would be fantastic if we can apply this to human beings. It’s a very simple approach.” Huard can’t say how far in the future this might be, but his group has been using muscle stem cells to repair damaged hearts, bones and cartilage.

One day it might be standard for people to stash away stem cells when they are young so they can use this fountain of youth elixir when they start aging, he said.