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Saralyn Mark, MD Stem Cell Research
Exciting research is showing that some epigenetic changes in stem cells can be reversed.
By reversing, or reprogramming, the stem cells that produce blood, Lund University researchers have succeeded in rejuvenating the blood of mice. Their results suggest that most of the negative aging effects are not caused by primary DNA damage which would be permanent, but are in fact reversible because they are based on epigenetic factors which are programmed over time and can also be reprogrammed.
Stem cells are the source of all the cells in the body, since they can divide an unlimited number of times, and each time, one of the resulting cells remains a stem cell while the other matures into the type of cell needed by the body, for example a blood cell.
The discovery that forms the basis for the research group’s method was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine last year.
The composition of blood is one example of how it ages and the difference between blood from a young person and an old person is well known. Blood contains a certain mix of B- and T-lymphocytes and myeloid cells. “In older people, the number of B- and T-lymphocytes falls, while the number of myeloid cells increases”, explained Martin Wahlestedt, a doctoral student in stem cell biology at the Faculty of Medicine at Lund University and lead author of a forthcoming article in the journal Blood.
When an elderly person is affected by leukemia, the cancer often has its origin in the myeloid cells, of which the elderly have more. Being able to “restart” the blood, as Martin and his colleagues have done in their studies on mice, presents interesting possibilities for future treatment.
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