Most people are interested in healthy aging, longevity and a long life span. These pursuits are intrinsic to optimizing the human experience.
In our quest for tools and technologies to support this aim, the scientific community has begun exploring the connection between stem cells and aging. Study after study is coming out delineating the paramount importance of stem cells in the aging process.
If you are into anti-aging research, stem cell therapy, and the intersection of these fields of research, then let’s dive in.
First, what are stem cells? They are the body’s raw material. The original cells that all the differentiated cells in our body derive from.
The reason there has been an outpouring of interest in stem cells and anti-aging is that stem cells can be directed to become a wide variety of cell types. This means they could potentially heal a wide range of previously incurable diseases.
Embryonic Stem Cells vs. iPS Cells vs. Adult Stem Cells
Three main sources of stem cells can be used in research. The first is embryonic stem cells (ESCs), which have immense controversy associated with them. The second is induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), which are non-controversial. The third is adult stem cells, which also have no ethical implications.
Embryonic stem cells are sourced from embryos that are 3-5 days old. At this stage, an embryo is still only about 150 cells in and is a blastocyst. These embryonic stem cells come from embryos that were fertilized at in vitro fertilization clinics, but never implanted into a woman’s uterus. They come from consensual donors and are grown within a laboratory.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) created very strict guidelines on how embryonic stem cells can be used in anti-aging research in 2009.
Next, we have induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). These cells be made by reprogramming mature adult cells back into an embryonic-like state. Derived from skin or blood cells, iPS cells are not controversial, because they are made from adult cells.
Finally, adult stem cells are those present within a living human being, which despite the name, could include a newborn, child or an adult. Adult stem cells can be found in plentiful quantities within the umbilical cord, bone marrow, fat, and peripheral blood, for example.
Currently, the most widely studied stem cell type is the mesenchymal stem cell (MSC). These cells are being explored in more than 1,045 clinical trials worldwide.
With regard to anti-aging applications, all three of these stem cell types could have enormous therapeutic potential.
Stem Cell Therapy for an Aging Population
There are several intriguing ways in which stem cells and aging may be interconnected. Let’s explore them below.
1. Capacity of Stem Cells to Replace Aging Cells
It might sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, but in stem cell therapy, researchers grow stem cells in a laboratory. Then, they manipulate them to specialize into specific cell types of interest.
For example, if researchers are working with a person with heart disease, then stem cells would be specialized into heart cells. These cardiac cells would then be injected or implanted, with the aim of replacing dying or aging cells within a person’s heart. Research has shown patients with heart disease can be assisted through the help of stem cell therapy.
Likewise, an aging brain may benefit from a similar approach. This is because older brains have cells that are less capable of regeneration and renewal activities. Over time, this can cause a decline in cognitive function. Logically, a type of adult stem cell known as a neural stem cell is being explored for this purpose.
Intriguingly, iPS cells are as well. In 2018, neurosurgeons from Kyoto University in Japan implanted 2.4 million cells into the brain of a patient with Parkinson’s disease. To do this, they used peripheral blood cells collected from a donor, reprogrammed them into iPS cells, and differentiated those cells into dopaminergic precursor cells.
While this research is not yet complete, the hope is that this cell therapy will boost dopamine levels and improve the patient’s symptoms.
2. Stem Cells Exert Positive Effects
A second way that stem cells and aging are interconnected is that stem cells exert secondary (“paracrine”) effects.
Meaning, they can have a positive impact on other cells and tissues around them. For example, they can reduce inflammation, reduce scarring (fibrosis), or promote a healthy immune response.
They do this through the wide range of signaling methods. These include the production of growth factors, cytokines, chemokines, and bioactive lipids, among other signals. These paracrine factors can reduce the apoptosis (death) of the cells nearby and stimulate proliferation.
It can also increase the vascularization of the blood vessels nearby, which increases oxygen delivery and metabolic exchange.
Stem cells also secrete exosomes and other types of microvesicles (MV). These are small spherical membrane fragments that can have a host of positive benefits on the cells nearby. Think of them as intra-cellular “mail” that gets sent from one cell to another.
Not only are microvesicles rich in bioactive lipids and able to produce growth factors, but they can produce mRNA, microRNA (miRNA), and proteins that enhance cell function.
3. Enhancing the Capacity of Aging Stem Cells
Finally, the aging process can have severe consequences for our stem cells. In particular, the renewal capacity of our stem cells declines with age. So does their ability to differentiate into other cell types.
Thus, scientists are exploring mechanisms through which we could either delay or prevent the aging-induced decline of our stem cell functionality. In theory, this would address the underlying cause of many aging-related diseases.
In particular, many of the organs that decline in functionality with age are impacted by stem cell populations that cease to adequately renew them.
Hematopoietic stem cells (which renew the blood and immune system), neural stem cells (which renew the brain), skin stem cells (which renew the skin), and satellite cells of the skeletal muscle (which renew our musculature) are all examples of this. There are many other organs that cease to be replenished as well.
Longevity Goals: Making 100 the New 60
Lots of research is being conducted on regenerative medicine and stem cells, because it is a multi-billion dollar market.
Gerontologist Aubrey De Grey says that humans can live forever, maybe even in our lifetimes. He has a viral Ted talk on this exact subject.
The cofounder of Human Longetivity Inc. (HLI) and CEO of Celularity, Inc., Dr. Robert Hariri, likes to be a bit more conservative. He speaks about extending the human lifespan to an average age of 100.
Clearly, therapeutic opportunities for using stem cells within anti-aging medicine are extensive.
Stem Cells and Aging
Even though stem cells and aging has been represented in sci-fi movies as a possibility, the scientific research is still in its early ages.
As our global population ages, the necessity for new and innovative solutions will become increasingly important. For this reason, stem cells could play a central role in the battle against physical and cognitive decline.
Do you have questions about stem cells for your specific condition medical? If so, BioInformant is a news source and not a medical provider. Thus, we’d encourage you to contact GIOSTAR at this link to ask them your specific medical questions.
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