In many ways, aging is a disease. As individuals grow older, they experience difficulties with memory, concentration and general fatigue. The rates of degenerative diseases increase. All of these consequences can be explained by disrupted cellular processes and increased amounts of inflammation that naturally occur with age.
Since there is no cure for aging, scientists are instead looking for ways to modulate the effects of inflammation and cellular degeneration. In other words, they are looking for ways to fight age-related diseases at their source.
Biology behind aging
Research has highlighted multiple cellular and molecular consequences associated with aging. Some of these consequences include damage to DNA, mitochondria and telomeres. Aging is also associated with free-radical accumulation. This damage is often caused by daily inescapable events such as ultraviolet rays from the sun as well as exposure to viruses, bacteria and parasites that naturally occur over the course of a person’s life.
Because of these age-related changes, the human body gradually loses its ability to maintain cellular and molecular homeostasis, resulting in a number of diseases and disorders.
Stem cells as an anti-aging tool
Stem cells are one way in which future clinicians may be able treat age-related disorders. At the University of Pittsburgh, scientists found that injecting muscle stem cells from young mice into older mice extended their lifespan threefold.
In this study, scientists used mice that were genetically engineered to have a condition similar to the human condition progeria, a disorder in which children age rapidly and suffer from an abridged lifespan. Mice with this condition live only 21 days, far shorter than a normal mouse’s lifespan of two years.
When scientists examined the stem cells of the rapidly aging mice, they found that these stem cells were deficient compared to those found in younger mice — specifically, they divided far less frequently. In fact, these stem cells resembled those found in elderly mice.
To determine whether these deficient stem cells were associated with aging, the researchers injected stem cells from the young, healthy mice into the fast-aging mice. With these new stem cells, the rapidly aging mice lived an average of 71 days — 50 days more than expected. According to the researchers, this improvement is the equivalent of an 80-year-old human living to be 200. These animals also seemed healthier than before, almost as though the new stem cells rejuvenated them.
What does this mean?
What does this mean for the future? Will humans start injecting themselves with stem cells to start feeling younger? We’re not quite ready for this science fiction-like future just yet, but clinicians may eventually be able to use this knowledge to help diseases associated with aging such as Alzheimer’s and cancer.
At Sovereign Mental Health Services, we use evidence-based treatments to help our adult patients achieve sobriety and mental well-being. We offer relaxing yoga classes as well as guided meditation and equine therapy. Our unique cognitive lab provides patients with “physical therapy for the brain” through scientifically-based brain exercises. For more information, please contact 866-954-0529. For more information on healthy aging, look for other blogs in this series.
Written by Courtney Lopresti, M.S. neuroscience, Sovereign Health Group writer