University scientists develop an approach to reverse aging in stem cells
It is quite expected that as we grow older, most of the muscles and joints in our bodies are bound to become stiffer.
Recent findings in a study carried out by a team based at the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, which is part of the University of Cambridge, have revealed that the same holds for our brains.
The report tabled by these researchers has some bad and good news. The bad news is that brain stiffening that is attributed to aging is bound to have a very significant effect on the normal functioning of the brain stem cells.
The good news, however, is that these scientists also developed an approach to reverse the functionality of the aged stem cells, and to rejuvenate them into younger ones that are healthier.
The report showing how exactly these scientists managed to arrive at the above conclusions was published in Nature. A major implication of this study, as it came up, was the update of the existing knowledge-base on the aging process. It was more than clear that such findings could contribute significantly to the development of effective treatment formulas to aid in the management of age-related diseases.
This multi-disciplinary team relied on both young and old rat brains in an effort to fully comprehend the effects of age-related brain stiffening, in as far as the normal function of the Oligodendrocyte Progenitor cells (OPCs) is concerned. These cells are instrumental in the maintenance of the overall normal functions of the brain.
OPCs, as science has it, are also very important in the myelin-regeneration process. Myelin is the fatty sheath that covers our nerves. This sheath cannot withstand multiple sclerosis, hence it is paramount for the body to have a way in which it can regenerate it.
As old age kicks in, the OPCs usually get affected and this contributes to the occurrence of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). It is also important to note that the function of these cells also declines in healthy people as they age, even without MS being involved.
The main highlight of this study was in the way these scientists transplanted the older OPCs obtained from the older rats, into the brains of the younger rats in a bid to see if this would result in the reversal of the state of the older cells.
Surprisingly, they discovered that the cells from the older rats’ brains were actually rejuvenated. They observed that these cells took up the behavioral pattern of the younger cells located in the soft and spongy brains of the younger rats.
The researchers then went ahead to create new materials whose various degrees of stiffness resembled the state of the brains’ in both the younger and the older rats. These materials, which they crafted in the lab, were then used in the growth and observation of rat brain cells within a controlled environment.
Piezo1, a protein on the cell surface which is responsible for informing the cells whether its environment is either soft or stiff, happened to also be of very particular interest to these researchers. They were very keen on observing the role that this protein plays.
According to Dr Kevin Chalut, who co-led this research, the team was really fascinated to see the manner in which younger brain cells placed on the stiff material became dysfunctional, and also how they eventually lost their ability to regenerate. They, in fact, ended up functioning like aged cells.
Dr Kevin also expressed his awe of the behavior of the old brain cells that were placed on the soft material. The team was pleased to see these cells rejuvenate and begin to function like the young cells.
Professor Robin Franklin who was also co-leading this research gave an oral report about the essence of looking into the roles of Piezo1. The finding, according to Professor Robin, was that when Piezo1 was removed from the brain stem cells’ surface, the cells were tricked into interpreting that they were in a soft surrounding environment, despite being on a stiff material.
The deletion of Piezo1 in the OPCs, Professor Robin went on to report, led to the rejuvenation of the cells in the aged rats’ brains. The OPCs were actually able to resume their regenerative function.
The findings of this study were received as very good news by the medicine fraternity, and particularly the MS Society, which partly funded this research. According to Dr Susan Kohlhaas who was the director of research at the charity, the effects of multiple sclerosis on patients are anything far from bearable.
Bearing in mind that MS is actually disabling, Dr Susan stipulated that the society has all the while been in need of treatment that can either slow down or even prevent the accumulation of disability. The discovery by the Cambridge team, she remarked, is very important in the direction of the development of treatment for MS patients.
The importance of the research these scientists conducted, she further stated, is to a great extent pegged on their discovery of a new target in as far as addressing the issues related to aging and MS is concerned, as well as the new approach to be relied upon to help the brain regain its lost functionality.
The other notable bodies and institutes that supported this research include:
– The European Research Council
– The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
– The Adelson Medical Research Foundation
– The Medical Research Council and Wellcome
To your health,
The Healing Miracle Team
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