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Aging Stem Cells Restored in Mice Medicine

Anita Hassan New York Times Syndicate

09-13-13

Scientists at the Texas Heart Institute have discovered what might be the fountain of youth for stem cells, a method they say could be used to develop a potential treatment for elderly patients suffering from heart and vascular diseases.

In a new study, institute researchers found they could renew the healing properties of the stem cells of elderly mice by increasing the activity of two genetic factors. The breakthrough marks a big advance that showed stem cells' capability to repair the heart and other organs decreases with age.

"What we are doing is restoring the older cells to a far better and more youthful functional capability," said Dr. James T. Willerson, president of the Texas Heart Institute and the study's principal investigator.

Willerson cautioned the process is years away from being used in human patients, if at all. However, he said, if the same methods used in lab mice work in human cells, which utilize the same genes, it could potentially help treat age-related heart and vascular diseases in the elderly population.

The study was published Thursday in Circulation Research, a journal of the American Heart Association.

'Very impressive'

"I found the data very impressive," said Dr. Joshua Hare, director of the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute at the University of Miami Health System. Hare noted that the optimization of the cell is incredibly important.

"So if we can show that hey, we can actually improve the cells, we can make them better and make them more effective and we can figure how to make them more effective, than that is really exciting," Hare said.

About 83.6 million American adults suffer from one or more types of cardiovascular disease and of those, nearly half are older than 60, according to the American Heart Association.

Past research by the institute has found that as human beings get older, their stem cells also age.

More than a decade ago, researchers at the heart institute discovered that adult stem cells- which have shown they have the ability to grow into most any kind of tissue - from a patient's own bone marrow can be used to regenerate and repair damage in their hearts. However, previous clinical studies the heart institute performed on humans found that the stem cells from patients, starting at around age 60, were dysfunctional and showed no benefit.

"They (stem cells) are dysfunctional when we need them the most," he said. "But we are trying to change that by resuscitating the old cells."

The research took about 2{ years to complete and used mesenchymal, or primitive stem cells harvested from the bone marrow and fat tissue of young and old mice. Scientists then introduced factors into the cells that increased the activity of two genes: telomerase, an enzyme that strengthens and protects chromosomes; and myocardin, which prolongs the life of cells.

'Far more viable'

"That changed the aging stem cells in the mice, so that they were now far more viable and functional," Willerson said. "They (stem cells) survived longer, they were more active and they migrated better."

The stem cells were transplanted into mice that had restricted blood flow in the hind limbs. Results showed the rejuvenated stem cells increased blood flow and artery capacity to the legs.

Willerson said the next step will be to use the same methodology in adult stem cells harvested from elderly patients from previous clinical trials and stored at the institute. If it works, they may try to transplant those cells into their original patients to see if it would help repair their damaged hearts.

"The goal here is to really regenerate the whole heart," he said.

c.2013 Houston Chronicle

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