Stem cells may slow the heart’s ageing process


 A new study published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine demonstrates how mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) not only protect the heart from further damage after a cardiac incident but can also slow down its ageing process. These findings, in a rat model of the ageing heart, could help propel stem cells to the fore as a potential solution for more effective ways to treat heart conditions.

“This study is important as it suggests an alternative approach for treating heart failure in elderly patients,” said Yanjie Lu, a professor in the pharmacology department at Harbin Medical University (HMU) in Harbin, China, and a world-renowned expert on myocardial infarction. He led the study, conducted by colleagues at HMU.

MSCs, found in bone marrow, can generate bone, cartilage and fat cells that support the formation of blood and fibrous connective tissue. These stem cells also can be coaxed in the laboratory into becoming a variety of cell types, from cardiomyocytes and neurons, to osteoblasts, smooth muscle cells and more.

Several studies have already shown that MSCs can reverse age-related degeneration of multiple organs, restore physical and cognitive functions of aged mice, and improve age-associated osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease and atherosclerosis. Lu’s team has been studying the anti-ageing benefits MSCs may also have on the heart.

“We previously showed that MSCs offer an anti-senescence action on cardiomyocytes as they grow older,” he explained. “However, what we did not know was whether these findings from a cellular model could be applied to more physiological conditions in whole animals. That is what we wanted to learn with this study.”

After injecting MSCs into rat cardiomyoctyes cultured in lab dishes and receiving encouraging results, they repeated the procedure on a group of young (four month-old) rats and old (20 months) rats. The results in both instances demonstrated that MSCs have a significant anti-ageing effect.

“Our study did not just unravel the efficacy of MSCs in fighting cardiac ageing, it also delineated the mechanisms underlying this beneficial action,” Lu explained. “The anti-ageing effects could be ascribed to the MSCs anti-oxidative action. The results provide a novel strategy for retarding the cardiac ageing process.”

“This study helps unravel the efficacy of these cells in fighting cardiac ageing and delineates the underlying mechanisms,” said Anthony Atala, editor of Stem Cells Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, USA. “The results suggest a promising therapeutic approach for treating heart failure in the elderly population.”