“The provocative findings urge further research,” said Dr. Niedernhofer, one of the senior investigators on a University of Pittsburgh (USA) stem cell project. The context is injecting stem cells from young mice into very old mice and mice with progeria, a disease that causes rapid aging. As described in Nature Communications [03 January 2012, Open at publication, Muscle-derived stem/progenitor cell dysfunction limits healthspan and lifespan in a murine progeria model] the experiments showed that progeria mice, which normally survive only 21-28 days, can live more than 66 days and attain nearly normal size with generally better health. As Dr. Niedernhofer is indicating, this isn’t the fountain of youth, but this is a use of stem cells that can provide insight into the process of aging.
The researchers are working on the relationship between body cell condition and aging. Their experiments have shown that the presence of stem cells or progenitor (undifferentiated) cells can have a beneficial effect on cells afflicted with either progeria or simple old age. Merely injecting the stem cells had an impact on cells in the brain and muscles. In experiments conducted with cells in a culture dish, the proximity of stem cells – close but not touching – had a beneficial effect on unhealthy cells.
Rather obviously this research begs a question: What do the stem cells do to the aging cells? This type of research is pretty much a ‘black box’ experiment. The cells are injected and the results observed, but the chemistry or molecular-level pathways are not known. Which is why further research is required. However, it should be noted that a lot of medicine is used in which the results are accepted without knowing the underlying mechanism. These days, however, as equipment and procedures for work at the molecular level improve, it should be possible to take this kind of top-level research and successfully look for low-level linkages to the aging process.