According to a new study, stem cells taken from young hearts can be used to reverse the aging process, causing old hearts to act and perform like younger ones.
The study, carried out by the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and published by the European Heart journal, aimed to observe the effect of cardiac stem cells on different aspects of the heart, ranging from its function to structure. Prior applications of Cardiosphere-derived cells (CDC) resulted in positive effects, but this was the first time they were tested on the aging process.
The researchers involved in this study took CDC cells from newborn mice and injected it into the hearts of older mice, while a control group of older mice were injected with a saline solution. Blood, echocardiographic, haemodynamic, and treadmill stress tests were carried out on all mice after injections, with the older group being tested 1 month later.
The older mice that received the Cardiosphere-derived cells saw a number of health benefits compared to their saline counterparts. For example, they had improved heart functionality, were able to exercise for 20% longer, regrew their hair at a faster rate, and had longer heart cell telomeres. This is important because telomeres are compounds found at the ends of chromosomes whose shortening is directly related to the aging process.
Eduardo Marbán, MD, PhD, the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute Director and Lead Researcher, says that “the way the cells work to reverse aging is fascinating. They secrete tiny vesicles that are chock-full of signaling molecules such as RNA and proteins. The vesicles from young cells appear to contain all the needed instructions to turn back the clock.”
Despite these positive results on mice, there is still a lot of work that has to be done before this anti-aging treatment can be tried of people. Lilian Griorian-Shamagian, MD, PhD, the co-primary researcher on the study, notes that it’s still not clear whether the cells actually extend the lifespan of the rodents, rather than simply providing a new heart in an old body. Furthermore, it’s also unknown if CDCs need to be taken from younger hearts to be effective. If any CDCs can be used, regardless of their origins, it could lead to a new round of tests comparing the effects of CDCs from the young to CDCs from the middle-aged or old.
If these stem cells were able to be used for medical purposes, they could help those suffering from heart failure, or the Duchenne muscular dystrophy Marbán and his team are trying to treat. Furthermore, it could decrease the number of deaths by heart disease, which is currently responsible for over 600,000 deaths a year.