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Age May Not Matter for Stem Cell Donors

Stem cells collected from elderly donors function with the same ability as embryonic stem cells, according to a study performed by The Charité – Universitätsmedizin Hospital in Berlin, Europe's largest university clinic.

The study findings were published in Frontiers of Cardiovascular Medicine.

The study shows that induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) collected from elderly adults have the same ability to differentiate into mature cells as embryonic stem cells, making them an excellent alternative to embryonic stem cells for regenerative medical treatments.

Stem cells are different from many other cells of the body; they can develop into different cell types. Stem cells also can regenerate themselves without limit.

"These two factors of stem cells make them a powerful way to treat damaged tissues and organs," said Dr. Bill Johnson.

Johnson is a stem cell physician in Dallas, Texas.

Sources of Stem Cells

There are two sources of stem cells: embryos and adult tissue. Embryonic stem cells were long believed to be the superior of the two types of cells because they did not have the same level of cell damage as adult stem cells.

While embryonic stem cells may not have the damage of older stem cells, they do have limitations on how they can be used. One of the limitations is the controversy surrounding their collection.

"The use of embryonic stem cells is extremely controversial and banned in many countries," Johnson said.

Embryonic stem cells are also limited in their availability, and recipients of the cells and tissues created from the cells face the risk of rejecting their transplants.

"Any time you take a cell or tissue from one person and transplant it to another, there is a risk of immunological rejection," Johnson said.

Ethical concerns, limits on availability and the risk of immunological rejection were eliminated by the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) in 2006. Induced pluripotent stem cells are taken from adult tissues instead of embryonic sources and then programmed to an embryonic cell state. Once in this state, the cells are able to develop into specific tissues and are returned to the individual undergoing treatment.

Using a patient's own cells eliminates the risk of rejection.

Additionally, iPSCs are abundant in many tissues and organs of the body, such as adipose tissue.

"There are millions of adult stem cells in the adipose tissue," Johnson said.

Johnson uses the fat stem cells of adipose tissue to treat a range of health conditions, including age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and osteoarthritis.

Despite the benefits of adult stem cells, researchers have long had questions about the impact of donor age on their functionality, especially when it comes to treating age-related diseases.

The Frontiers study found that stem cells taken from elderly patients may show reduced efficiency when being reprogrammed into IPSCs, but once the stem cells were generated into new cells and tissues, the signs of aging were reversed and the cells were rejuvenated.

The discovery gives medical researchers insight into potential new treatments for age-related diseases, a growing concern as average life expectancy rises.

"Advances in medicine have translated to people living longer, which is a great thing, but there are health conditions and diseases that develop as a consequence of aging," Johnson said.

These conditions - such as Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and heart disease - often have symptoms that cause pain and decrease quality of life.

The authors of the Frontiers study hope that their findings regarding the benefits of adult stem cells and other regenerative medical treatments can keep elderly patients comfortable and pain-free in their twilight years.

Although the study findings show promise, researchers are still investigating to find out if the stem cells of the elderly have more mutations than those of younger donors and if these mutations develop in the new cells or if they are repaired during regeneration.


Source:

Frontiers. "Stem cells from adults function just as well as those from embryos: Stem cells from elderly donors can be used for personalized treatment of age-related chronic and degenerative diseases, concludes a new review." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 April 2018.

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