As we age, cells do not replicate as efficiently and lose their ability to repair damage. That leads to disease and physical decline. There is still no way to reverse aging, but researchers in Boston this week announced that it may be possible to use the blood of younger people to boost the healing powers of cells in older people.
The people part is still theoretical. But in mice, researchers at Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the Joslin Diabetes Center found that exposing old mice with the blood of younger mice caused their cells to start acting younger. The study, published in the journal Nature, suggests that a better understanding the body's blood-forming mechanisms may lead to treatments for age-related illnesses as well as stem-cell therapies.
In the study, researchers connected the circulatory systems of a young mouse and an older one so that the older animal was exposed to the blood of the younger one. They found that the blood-forming stem cells in the older animals functioned better, generating various types of blood cells in more appropriate ratios. Further, the study showed that bone-forming cells called osteoblasts play a key role in the process of blood stem cell maintenance and regeneration.
"What's most exciting is that the changes that occur in blood stem cells during aging are reversible through signals carried by the blood itself," Amy J. Wagers, the lead investigator of the study, said in a news release. "This means that the blood system offers a potential therapeutic avenue for age-related stem cell dysfunction."
In an article about the research in MIT Technology Review, writer Emily Singer points out that many questions remain about the research, including whether the older mice exposed to the younger-blood treatment will be more resistant to age-related ailments.
-- Shari Roan
Photo credit: Advance Cell Technology Inc.