Scientists Identify ‘Fountain of Youth’ Gene That Reverses Cellular Ageing
Stem cells can restore and regenerate all cells, tissues, and organs in the body. But like other cells, they grow old and become less effective over time. Scientists have now discovered a gene that may change this and keep our stem cells, and consequently us, young – eternally.
However much you want to believe it’s real, the fountain of youth – where you can drink or bathe in divine waters and restore your youth – is nothing more than a myth based on wishful thinking.
The story of these mysterious waters highlights our long fascination with staying young, wishing as early back as 5th century BCE that we could turn back time on the body’s ticking biological clock.
Today, we’d no doubt be the envy of many of history’s great travellers, romantics, governors, and crusaders who tirelessly scoured the earth in search of immortality. Scientists believe they have identified the fountain of eternal youth – and it’s not hidden in the hills of some mystical land, but rather it’s here, deep within the body itself.
Preventing the problem of ageing
“Not only does NANOG have the capacity to delay ageing, it has the potential in some cases to reverse it.” –Stelios Andreadis, study co-author
In the study conducted at the University at Buffalo, researchers looked at the lifespan of stem cells and the potential of a gene called NANOG to halt and even reverse their process of ageing.
When specialised cells such as blood and bone cells die, they’re usually replaced by new cells. This is where our stem cells come in. However, as we age, our stem cells lose their ability to self-renew and become less effective at developing and creating new cells.
Stem cell ageing is one reason why many experts advise to bank your stem cells when you are young.
For example, in a young and healthy body mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) replenish smooth muscle cells (SMCs). Over time, MSCs lose their ability to generate fully functional SMCs equip with the essential protein ‘actin’ that helps muscles contract.
When researchers applied the NANOG gene to aged MSCs, the stem cells miraculously restored their ability to produce actin-yielding cells. What’s more, the resulting cells were shown to contract like their more youthful counterparts.
Though it’s unclear how the gene reinvigorates aged stem cells, the results have been repeated across several tests. In patients with Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a disease which causes early cell ageing and is characterised by a rapid appearance of ageing in childhood, NANOG again boosted the production of fully functional muscle cells.
The researchers believe restoring the regenerative capacity of stem cells is the key to retaining and even regaining our youth, and may also help solve a number of debilitating age-related disorders.
It’s clear that this gene holds some potential for delaying cellular ageing. However, more studies need to be done to understand it’s mechanisms fully. Only then can we safely dip into the much-awaited pool of rejuvenating powers.
You can read the full report here in the journal Stem Cells.