According to a new study, aging hearts might find a new lease on life. Researchers have demonstrated that stem cells taken from young rats and given to aged rats rejuvenated their hearts, making them functionally younger in a number of ways.
Young at heart
The new study published in the European Heart Journal investigated the effects of cardiac stem cells on the function and structure of aged hearts . There have been previous experiments using cardiosphere-derived cells (CDCs) that have delivered promising results, but they have never been tested in relation to aging.
The research team took CDCs from newborn mice, injected them into the hearts of older mice, and compared them to a control group given saline. The team performed blood, echocardiographic, haemodynamic, and treadmill stress tests on both groups and performed them again a month later. The results were impressive, to say the least.
The mice given CDCs saw many positive benefits compared to the control group. The mice had improved heart function, they could exercise twenty percent longer, their hair regrew faster, and the telomeres in their heart cells were longer. The lengthening of telomeres is interesting, as they are a primary hallmark of aging, a regulator of cell fate, and an indicator of cell stress levels, so their improvement is a positive sign.
It’s still the early days
As with any results in animals, there are the usual caveats. The first is that they may not translate to humans, and the second is that in order to translate them to humans, the long road of clinical trials must be traveled before they can be safely used.
There is much more work to be done before CDCs could be used in treatments that target the aging processes in people. The researchers note that it is unclear if the cells increase the lifespan of the rats, as this was not tested, although they certainly do give new leases of life to aged hearts.
It is also not known if CDCs need to be taken from young hearts in order to work or if they could be harvested from the patient and have their functional ages reset in the way that iPSC therapy does.
If CDCs from any origin can be used to rejuvenate the aging heart, this could be an important game changer in the world of medicine. It would be interesting to test the effectiveness of CDCs from young, middle-aged, and patient-derived and reprogrammed cells.
This study shows once again that aging in cells, tissues, and organs is not one-way and that it can be reversed. If CDCs can be used safely in pending clinical trials, they have the potential to help people suffering from heart failure, recovering from heart attacks, and living with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and similar conditions.
This research is still in its early days, but this is one of many similar approaches being tested in laboratories today, and it could potentially change the face of medicine forever if proven effective. Aging is not a one-way process, and by targeting the root causes of aging, we might be able to prevent or reverse age-related diseases.
 Lilian Grigorian-Shamagian, Weixin Liu, Soraya Fereydooni, Ryan C. Middleton, Jackelyn Valle, Jae Hyung Cho, Eduardo Marbán; Cardiac and systemic rejuvenation after cardiosphere-derived cell therapy in senescent rats, European Heart Journal, , ehx454,