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Age Doesn’t Matter When It Comes to Stem Cell Donors

Posted on May 31, 2018


Induced pluripotent stem cells, also known as iPSCs, harvested from elderly donors have the same abilities as stem cells collected from embryonic tissue, according to a new study performed by The Charité – Universitätsmedizin Hospital in Berlin, the largest university clinic in Europe.

Induced pluripotent stem cells are adult stem cells that are reprogrammed back to an embryonic stem cell state, which allows them to be coaxed into developing into different types of tissue.

This breakthrough is exciting as it makes iPSCs a viable alternative to embryonic stem cells.

While iPSCs have the same capabilities of embryonic stem cells to differentiate themselves into many different types of tissues, they do not have the controversy or ethical considerations that surround embryonic stem cells.

“The use of embryonic stem cells is embroiled with the controversy of their use – which makes many people concerned,” said Dr. Joel Singer.

Singer is a New York physician who uses personal cells taken from adipose (fat) tissue.

Not only are stem cells taken from embryos controversial, but they are also limited in availability.

“Sources of embryonic stem cells are very limited compared to the millions of stem cells found in adult tissues. One collection of fat stem cells often yields millions of stem cells,” Singer said.

Additionally, using embryonic stem cells for medical treatment is risky because of the chance of immunological rejection.

Immunological rejection occurs when tissue transplanted from one individual to another is seen as a threat and attacked by the recipient’s immune system. Immunological rejection can occur with organs as well as stem cells.

“Using autologous stem cells, or stem cells taken directly from the patient being treated, eliminates the risk of immunological rejection or adverse reaction,” Singer said.

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.

Historically, embryonic stem cells were thought to be the superior type of stem cells because they had not experienced the levels of cell damage that adult stem cells had.

But the Frontiers study challenged this theory when its findings showed that while stem cells taken from elderly patients did show damage, the adult stem cells were rejuvenated after being reprogrammed back to an embryonic state.

The findings could potentially lead to new treatments for age-related health conditions.

“The development of new treatments for age-related diseases is critical because life expectancy continues to rise,” Singer said.

While life expectancy has increased due to advances in medicine, there are diseases and other conditions that develop as a consequence of aging, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

“These conditions are frequently painful and make the later years hard for many people,” Singer said.

The Frontiers study authors hope that their findings can keep older adults pain free and comfortable in their later years.

While the Frontiers study is exciting, the researchers are still working to determine if the stem cells collected from elderly donors showed more genetic mutations than stem cells collected from embryonic sources.

Another concern of the researchers is to determine if these mutations develop in regenerated stem cells or if they are somehow repaired during regeneration.

These questions and their potential answers are exciting for physicians like Singer.

“New and life-changing discoveries regarding stem cells, how they work and their benefits for medical treatments are being found every day,” Singer said.



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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