Stem Cells may Triple Lifespan

Stem cell research promises cancer breakthroughs, limb and organ regeneration, a cure for heart disease…and now breaking research suggests stem cells may hold the key to tripling human lifespans.

A research team from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center [UPMC Press release] has discovered that a single shot of stem cells into mice was like the fountain of youth returning strength and vigor to aged mice and making them live up to three times longer.

The injection of cells made the mice significantly stronger and their muscle mass grew. They got bigger.

Mammals—including humans—tend to shrink as they age, the fact that the mice literally grew bigger means that the biological clock was actually reset at a much younger age.

The experiment involved a group of mice specially bred with a medical condition known as progeria that causes premature and accelerated aging. When stem cells from much younger, healthy mice were injected into the aged mice, the aging symptoms measurably reversed.

The Pittsburgh scientists believe that more research will develop methods to arrest and possibly reverse the aging in humans allowing lifespans to increase to as much as 200 or more years in the future. They point to special proteins within the cells they think may hold the key to life extension.

The journal Nature Communications published the research results in early January 2012. [“Muscle-derived stem/progenitor cell dysfunction limits healthspan and lifespan in a murine progeria model”]

Replication and aging

One of the author’s of the study, Dr. Laura Niedernhofer said of the research. “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. That tells us that stem cell dysfunction is a cause of the changes we see with aging.”

As cells age they replicate slower and with more error. The stem cell injections offset that and reset the clock. The treated mice also showed signs of new muscle tissue and new blood vessels in the brain, all signs of age reversal.

“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,” Dr. Niedernhofer said in the UPMC press release. “In a culture dish experiment, we put young stem cells close to, but not touching, progeria stem cells, and the unhealthy cells functionally improved.”

Laboratories around the world have been achieving breakthrough with longevity studies and many age researchers believe that human lifespans will average at least 150 years within a few decades.