Stem Cells and Age: Should We Be Concerned?
May 1, 2012 - 3:16:30 PM
(HealthNewsDigest.com) - We all experience the ravages of time on our body. With all the interest in the medical potential for stem cells in the news today, is the age of the cells something to be concerned with? Millions of individuals have now collected and stored their stem cells in biobanks just in case they are needed at some time in the future. Tens of thousands of patients have received either stem cell transplants for the treatment of cancer or stem cell infusions for various experimental regenerative medicine therapies. It appears that almost 1 in 5 individuals may undergo one of these stem cell procedure over their lifetimes (1). However, very little thought is given to everyday factors that may impair the utility of these stem cells, and whether they will be useful at a later date if needed. This is why I have spent my career preserving and studying newborn stem cells from the umbilical cord and cord blood.
For more than 40 years stem cells have been used to treat more than 40,000 patients with a variety of cancers and blood diseases (e.g., leukemia and sickle cell anemia). Since the urgency of finding the right match in a donor pool the most important thing, very little thought has been given to the age or health status of the stem cells (as long as the donor was free of select infectious diseases). Increasingly, evidence is building that suggests the age of the stem cells, as well as the health of the stem cell donor, can significantly impact the utility of the stem cells.
Younger is Better
Looking at stem cell use in transplant medicine using hematpoietic stem cells (HSC) as a treatment for cancers and blood diseases, researchers (Pipes et al (2)) demonstrated that children transplanted with newborn stem cells derived from cord blood had younger acting, new blood cells compared to children transplanted with other sources of stem cells like bone marrow. The study indicated that newborn stem cells replicate better and this could be an advantage for younger patients who might live for decades after transplantation. These recipients of young stem cell transplants would be less likely to undergo premature cellular aging, leading to better outcomes for children.
For research in the arena of regenerative medicine, many are looking at mesenchymal stem cells (MSC; 3). MSCs form connective tissues such as bone, cartilage, and tendon, as well as having unique properties that make them promising for cellular therapies. Cord tissue-derived MSCs—the youngest MSC it is possible to collect—show show great potential for a variety of regenerative medicine applications including treatment for spinal cord injury, cartilage damage and traumatic brain injury. They have unique characteristics that set them apart from adult-derived MSC, starting with their high proliferation rate. MSCs from newborn tissues are known to divide more quickly and more extensively than adult cells (4-5). One study showed that the cord tissue MSC can be expanded over 300-fold in culture (4).
Researchers have shown a loss of MSC fitness with age, a potential problem when using aged MSC for cell based therapies. The ability of older stem cells to respond to injury and disease may be compromised during aging and could contribute to inferior tissue repair (6).
So it seems with stem cells as other parts of our body, they work better when younger. Stem cells collected from younger and healthier donors are proving more useful for transplantation and regenerative medicine than stem cells taken from older and/or less healthy donors. This seems to be holding true for both hematopoietic and mesenchymal stem cells, making a strong case for the preservation of newborn stem cells from the umbilical cord and cord blood for potential future use.
2. BL Pipes, T Tsang, SX Peng, R Fiederlein, M Graham and DT Harris. Telomere length changes after umbilical cord blood transplant. Transfusion 46: 1038-1043, 2006.
3. ClinicalTrials.gov | Mesenchymal Stem Cell. http://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?intr=mesenchymal+stem+cell. Accessed December 2009.
4. Pappa KI, Anagnou NP. Novel sources of fetal stem cells: where do they fit on the developmental continuum? Regen Med. May 2009;4(3):423-433.
5. Troyer DL, Weiss ML. Wharton's jelly-derived cells are a primitive stromal cell population. Stem Cells. Mar 2008;26(3):591-599.
6. A Stolzing, E Jones, D McGonagle, AScutt. Age-related changes in human bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells: consequences for cell therapies. Science Direct 129: 163-173, 2008).
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