Scientists for the first time received stem cells of supercentenarians. Their study will help to understand the mechanism of aging and, possibly, develop methods that will improve quality and longevity.
People, who living more than 110 years, are called supercentenarians. They are not only remarkable for their age, but also for their incredible health. This “elite group” is apparently resistant to diseases that still affect even centenarians, such as diseases of the cardiovascular system, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is still unknown why some people become supercentenarians, while others do not.
In a new study, scientists first reprogrammed the cells of a 114-year-old woman into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which can transform into any cell in the body.
The progress made by scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys and AgeX Therapeutics, a biotechnology company enables researchers to embark on studies that uncover why supercentenarians live such long and have practically no illness. The results were published in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.
“We set out to answer a big question: Can you reprogram cells this old?” – says Evan Y. Snyder, M.D., Ph.D., professor and director of the Center for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at Sanford Burnham Prebys, and study author. “Now we have shown it can be done, and we have a valuable tool for finding the genes and other factors that slow down the aging process.”
Scientists reprogrammed the blood cells of three different people in iPSCs – the aforementioned 114-year-old woman, a healthy 43-year-old volunteer and an 8-year-old child with progeria – a disease that leads to rapid aging at an early age. Then the researchers directed the obtained cells along the path of differentiation into mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). This type of cell helps maintain and repair the body’s structural tissues—including bone, cartilage and fat.
Researchers have found that supercentenarian cells transformed as easily as the cells from two other sources. As expected, telomeres – protective structures at the ends of chromosomes that shorten with age – also recovered. It is known that these terminal sections of chromosomes are associated with aging and longer telomeres indicate greater potential for a long life of the cell.
It is noteworthy that the telomeres of the supercentenarian iPSCs were reset to their original state, which is equivalent to the transition from 114 years to the state of a baby. However, telomere recovery in iPSCs of supercentenarian occurred less frequently compared to other samples. This indicates that longevity may have some effects that accumulate over time, which must be overcome in order to more effectively reverse cell aging.
Now that scientists have been able to overcome all key technological hurdles, they can begin research that will determine the characteristics of supercentenarians for example, comparing muscle cells derived from the healthy iPSCs, supercentenarian iPSCs and progeria iPSCs would reveal genes or molecular processes that are unique to supercentenarians. As a result, this will help fight aging in two directions: the creation of drugs that will either inhibit the destruction process, or mimic the “useful” patterns that are characteristic of supercentenarians cells.
“Why do supercentenarians age so slowly?” – says Snyder. “We are now set to answer that question in a way no one has been able to before.”