A new study published in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine demonstrates how mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) not only protect the heart from further damage after a cardiac incident but can actually slow down its aging process, too. These findings, in a rat model of the aging heart, could help propel stem cells to the forefront as a potential solution for more effective ways to treat heart conditions.
“This study is important as it suggests an alternative approach for treating heart failure in elderly patients,” said Yanjie Lu, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the pharmacology department at Harbin Medical University (HMU) in Harbin, China, and a world-renowned expert on myocardial infarction. He led the study, conducted by colleagues at HMU.
Aging is a complex and multifaceted process, resulting in damage to molecules, cells and tissue that in turn leads to declining organs. Mesenchymal stem cells, found in bone marrow, can generate bone, cartilage and fat cells that support the formation of blood and fibrous connective tissue. These stem cells also can be coaxed in the laboratory into becoming a variety of cell types, from cardiomyocytes (heart muscle cells) and neurons, to osteoblasts, smooth muscle cells and more.
Several studies have already shown that MSCs can reverse age-related degeneration of multiple organs, restore physical and cognitive functions of aged mice, and improve age-associated osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease and atherosclerosis. Dr. Lu’s team has been looking into the anti-aging benefits MSCs might have on the heart, too.
“We previously showed that MSCs offer an anti-senescence action on cardiomyocytes as they grow older,” he explained. (Senescence is the condition or process of deterioration with age, including the loss of a cell’s power to divide and grow.) “However, what we didn’t know was whether these findings from a cellular model could be applied to more physiological conditions in whole animals. That’s what we wanted to learn with this study.”
They decided to explore their question using rats. After injecting MSCs into rat cardiomyoctyes being cultured in lab dishes and receiving encouraging results, they repeated the procedure on a group of young (4 months old) rats and old (20 months) rats, too. The results in both instances demonstrated that MSCs have a significant anti-aging effect.
“Our study didn’t just unravel the efficacy of MSCs in fighting cardiac aging, it also delineated the mechanisms underlying this beneficial action,” Dr. Lu explained. “The anti-aging effects could be ascribed to the MSCs anti-oxidative action. The results provide a novel strategy for retarding the cardiac aging process.”
“This study helps unravel the efficacy of these cells in fighting cardiac aging and delineates the underlying mechanisms,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “The results suggest a promosing therapeutic approach for treating heart failure in the elderly population.”