Stem Cell Treatments Decrease the Effects of Aging

There is a new study in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine has shown that stem cell injections helped rats live almost a third longer than normal. In addition, the stem cell-treated animals remained both physically and mentally active longer throughout their life spans.

Aging is characterized by the loss of regenerative capacity of cells and tissues. This leads to the shrinkage of body mass and increased susceptibility to stress. “When new cells are not able to replace the ones that die, tissue integrity and functions decline. Therefore, it has been suggested that exhaustion of stem cells may be a major cause of aging in humans and that the proliferative potential of stem cells is related to life span,” said Yun-Bae Kim, D.V.M., Ph.D., at Chungbuk National University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Seoul, South Korea. Dr. Kim as the principal investigator in this study, in collaboration with Jeong Chan Ra, D.V.M., Ph.D., at the Biostar Stem Cell Research Center in Seoul.

Kim and his colleagues hypothesized that replenishing stem cells might have an anti-aging effect. The rationale behind these experiments came from studies conducted on mice suffering from a very rare genetic disease called progeria that causes premature aging. Laboratory animals with progeria were had their lived extended after receiving stem cell treatments. Other studies have shown that the treatment of laboratory mice with Alzheimer’s disease with stem cells causes improved cognitive function.

The Kim and Ra research teams decided to test whether stem cell treatments might have the same benefits for healthy animals.

They divided 10-month-old male rats into two groups and intravenously transplanted each group with either human amniotic-membrane-derived mesenchymal stem cells (AMMSCs) or adipose-tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells (ADMSCs). These transplantations were carried out once a month for the remainder of the animals’ lives. The animals were compared to a control group of 7-month-old rats that received no cells.

At the end of the 20-month study, only 30 percent of the control group survived, compared to 70 percent and 100 percent of the animals in the AMMSC and ADMSC groups, respectively. “Collectively, the mean life span of the rats (604.6 days) was extended to 746.0 days (23.4 percent increase) and 793.8 days (31.3 percent increase) by treatment with AMMSCs and ADMSCs, respectively. The animals also remained both cognitively and physically active longer than normal, too,” Dr. Kim said.

“We think these improvements in cognitive and motor functions might be due to the increased ACh (acetylcholine concentration, a major neurotransmitter or message sender) levels in the brain and muscles originating not only from the transplanted stem cells, but also from restored neurons,” Dr. Ra added. “These results could be a starting point for more studies on ways to achieve similar results in humans, extending their health and lifespans using their own stem cells, too.”

“As this line of research progresses, it will be interesting to learn more about the mechanisms behind these results and whether they will apply to other species,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.