Researchers have identified the process that causes the skin and other human organs to age, in what could prove a major breakthrough for the field of regenerative medicine.
Through “cellular reprogramming,” a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison discovered the mechanism that controls the aging and rejuvenation of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which can change into a variety of different cell types, such as muscle or bone.
Their study, published in the journal Stem Cells on Monday, adds to what scientists already knew about how cellular processes cause MSCs to age.
“Our study goes further to provide insight into how reprogrammed MSCs are regulated molecularly to ameliorate the cellular hallmarks of aging,” said one of its co-authors Wan-Ju Li.
“We believe our findings will help improve the understanding of MSC aging and its significance in regenerative medicine.”
Regenerative medicine is concerned with re-growing, replacing and healing organs or tissue damaged by age and disease.
The researchers extracted MSCs from human synovial fluid, the body’s natural lubricant found around joints, including the knees and elbows. They then ‘reprogrammed’ MSCs into a form of stem cell converted into an embryonic-like state, offering the scientists the possibility of creating any cell within the adult body.
The team found that a protein (GATA6) was repressed in the changed MSCs cells, leading to an increase in another protein (known as the SHH) and the expression of another (called FOXP1), which is active in the development of the brain, heart and lungs.
Dr Jan Nolta, editor of Stem Cells, hailed the identification of this protein pathway in controlling the aging of MSCs as a “very important accomplishment.”
The discovery comes after a separate recent study from researchers at Israel’s University of Tel Aviv, who claimed to have reversed the cellular aging process, in a world-first.
But compared to the University of Wisconsin-Madison study, the Israeli study is more controversial due to the process it used to shorten telomeres – the small tips at the end of each chromosome. Later on in life, this process can lead to an increased risk of age-related diseases, including coronary heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
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