Adult Stem Cells Prove as Useful as Embryonic


Stem cells from adults function just as well as those from embryos according to a recent study. The review also concludes that stem cells from elderly donors can be used for personalized treatment of age-related chronic and degenerative diseases.


A review of research on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) finds that donor age does not appear to influence their functionality. This validates iPSCs as a viable alternative to embryonic stem cells in regenerative medicine, and highlights the enormous potential of iPSCs derived from elderly patients to treat their age-related diseases.


The analysis of research on iPSCs finds that not only are typical signs of aging reversed in iPSCs, but cells derived from both older and younger donors show the same ability to differentiate into mature body cells. Published in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine, the study indicates future areas of research for this relatively new field.


“As average life expectancy continues to rise, so does the rate of age-related chronic and degenerative diseases,” explains Dr Nicolle Kränkel from Charité, a medical university in Germany. “Organ replacement and other cell-based treatments could increase longevity and improve the quality of life for elderly people with heart disease, kidney failure and even Alzheimer’s disease. Our analysis of current knowledge on iPSCs indicates that stem cells derived from older patients are suitable for personalised regenerative therapies as well as for modeling genetic disease.”


Unlike most cells in the body, stem cells have the potential to develop into different cell types. Their discovery opened the possibility of growing specific cells to treat damaged tissues and organs, as well as genetic diseases.


It was once commonly believed that embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are more reliable than other types of stem cells, as these “young” cells have not accumulated the same level of cell damage as older cells. However, embryonic stem cells also have limitations. These include ethical concerns, immunological rejection of transplanted tissue derived from ESCs, and limited availability of donated material.


The 2006 discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells—which can be derived directly from a patient—offers an attractive alternative. Their use has already been proved in a young patient: a boy suffering from a rare genetic disease, in which the skin blisters and tears off, recovered completely after receiving a skin transplant grown from his own gene-corrected stem cells.


However, questions remained about the impact of donor age on iPSC functionality—an especially relevant point given that the elderly stand to benefit the most from these stem cells. Kränkel and colleagues therefore critically analysed the available research to date, to summarise what is known and identify future research needs.


The analysis revealed that the age of the donor may reduce the efficiency at which their body cells can be reprogrammed into iPSCs. However, once generated, the stem cells appear to be rejuvenated—with typical signs of aging reversed.


“iPSCs show improved functionality compared to the donor’s regular body cells, and can be differentiated into mature body cells with a similar efficiency to younger stem cell donors,” says Kränkel. “This means that stem cells from an elderly patient can be developed into other cells and returned to the patient for treatment.”

Science Daily. April 24. Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine. January 25.

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