Stem Cells: For the Old and Wrinkly

September 22, 2011

Brit Trogen

Forget all the silly greeting cards that claim "You're only as old as you feel." According to groundbreaking new research from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging: you're only as old as your stem cells.


Yours don't look a day over twenty... I swear! 


So how would you like to reverse their aging process? 


Adult stem cells are essential for keeping your tissues healthy and maintaining that youthful glow. Just like little renovators, they're constantly replacing old and damaged cells. But unless you're Edward Cullen, this regenerative ability declines as you age because just like any other cells, stem cells undergo age-related damage over time. When stem cells get too "old" to do their job, your body can no longer replace those damaged cells. Just picture a beauty salon owner who's too old to properly fix up her other elderly clients: lots of blue hair and smudged lipstick. It's kind of like that.


But if there were a way to keep stem cells young, it would be the key to eternally youthful cells and tissues... Also known as the end of aging. The first step is figuring out exactly how adult stem cells age. The "aging" process of a cell usually refers to accumulation of DNA damage over time. In regular cells this is thought to occur via the shortening of telomeres, but strangely enough, adult stem cells maintain their telomeres throughout their lifetimes. So why aren't they already immortal, you ask?


Using an elegant experiment that involved extracting human stem cells, accelerating their aging in culture, and comparing them to un-accelerated cells, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology determined that retrotransposons (self-replicating elements, previously thought to be junk DNA) were responsible for the aging process of stem cells. But most intriguing of all, by suppressing the activity of these elements, the researchers were able to reverse the aging process of stem cells in culture, resetting "aged" stem cells to an earlier developmental stage.


Because these stem cells seem to now be immune to aging, they could play incredible roles in clinical settings, particularly in tissue regeneration. So maybe before long... we'll all be Edward Cullen.


Mmm... stem cells



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