What is a Stem Cell Technology and How it Helps in Aging?
Stem cell technology refers to the use of stem cells in developing effective treatments for a variety of malignant and non-malignant disorders. This is a multidisciplinary field that combines cell biologists, biotechnology, and researchers. Stem cell technology is a rapidly growing field dedicated to developing therapeutic applications against various pathological conditions. Stem cell technology has also been used to devise interventions that could help delay ageing and improve both lifespan and health span.
Stem Cell Technology
Stem Cell Technology, as the name suggests, involves the use of stem cells in developing medical treatments and applications. Stem cell technology is state-of-the-art technology that holds the potential for developing fully functional organs and tissues, devising cell-based therapies, tissue engineering, revolutionising organ transplant and increasing longevity by reversing the process of ageing. To understand stem cell technology, we must understand what a stem cell is.
What is a stem cell?
Stem cells are small and unspecialised cells that can be differentiated into specialised cells in the body, such as muscle cells, brain cells, and blood cells. In simple language, these are raw cells that are involved in replacing the damaged or dead cells in the body, such as in liver cells. Stem cells are capable of self-renewal and multilineage differentiation, i.e. developing into various mature cell types. Stem cells are broadly classified into three major types, namely adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells, and pluripotent stem cells.
Stem Cell Types and Application
Stem cells are majorly classified into three groups and are involved in various processes in the body. Each stem cell type is restricted to its specific origin and performs functions within that niche.
- Adult stem cells: They are characterised by self-renewal and differentiation within their tissue of origin. For example, many tissues, such as skin, muscle, and bone marrow contain adult stem cells. They help in replenishing dead and damaged cells.
- Embryonic stem cells: They are present in the developing embryo during the blastocyst stage. They can give rise to any cell type and hold great potential for therapeutic applications.
- Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS): They are reprogrammed cells in which stem cells are induced using the adult differentiated cells using gene expression. They also hold great potential for therapeutic applications and modelling disease processes.
How Stem Cell Technology Works?
Stem cell technology is a novel technology that uses the special features of stem cells in developing therapeutic applications and understanding disease processes. Researchers use stem cell technology for various applications. At first, researchers procure the adult stem cells. Then, they grow millions of such cells and induce them to transform into embryonic cells or pluripotent cells. This induction is achieved by altering either the gene expression of the cell or by inserting specific genes through viruses. At last, the cultured cells are incubated until the cells are reprogrammed ave transformed into stem cells. These lab-induced embryonic cells can be differentiated into any type of cell.
Stem Cell Technology Uses
Stem cell technology has been extensively researched, and its uses are studied and implemented to cure various disorders and complications. Stem cell is a powerful tool in medical research in understanding disease development, testing medicines, and decoding cell renewal processes. Stem cell technology is used in various fields of medicine and research, and they are as follows:
In this therapy, stem cells’ unique features of regeneration, restoration and repair are used to cure medical disorders, such as cardiovascular, neurological and dental damage.
- Cardiovascular: Research has shown that bone marrow mononuclear cells can reduce myocardial damage and improve heart function.
- Neuron: Research has demonstrated that stem cells can be used to provide effective treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington's diseases. Several clinical trials are currently going on in this field.
- Dental: Dental stem cells could potentially be used to repair damaged tooth tissues and ligaments as well as repair non-dental tissues such as bones and nerves.
Cell-based therapy is not yet practical but research is going on to treat medical conditions by altering cell types and differentiating them into useful cells. For example, an embryonic stem cell can be programmed to differentiate into insulin-producing cells which could be later transplanted into patients with type 1 diabetes. Such a therapy could help prevent several disorders, such as stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, retinal disease, and hearing loss.
Hematopoietic stem cells are somatic cells with self-renewal and differentiation properties and hold great potential in stem cell technology. Research is being carried out to treat genetic and acquired diseases using hematopoietic stem cells. In this process, hematopoietic stem cells are first inserted with specific genes and then introduced into host cell populations. The introduced genes are replicated, correcting genes in the cell population.
Stem cells along with anti-ageing genes, such as Klotho, have been extensively studied to discover the contributing factors that affect ageing and the development of anti-ageing therapies. Adult and embryonic stem cells are extensively studied to develop regenerative medicines for curing age-related disorders.
The Role of Stem Cells in Ageing
Ageing is a natural process in which body functions deteriorate over time during the lifespan of an individual. This deterioration is caused by dead cells and cells that cannot renew and regenerate, leading to the accumulation of senescent cells and the development of disorders. The reduced capacity of tissue regeneration and increased propensity to infection and cancer are prominent hallmarks of ageing.
Stem cells are the building blocks of life and hold the potential for cell regeneration. They are the powerhouse of restorative processes that can rescue damaged cells and replenish dead cells. As a result, stem cells are observed as a core factor in influencing the biological age of an individual.
Restorative Power of Stem Cells
Stem cells can reverse tissue or organ damage caused by injury or other factors. The regenerative and restorative power of stem cells is evident in some animals. For example, we can observe tremendous regenerative power in lower animals, like protozoa, Planaria, and Salamanders. In Hydra, a complete body can be regenerated within just 7–10 days, whereas Salamanders can regenerate their lost limbs within days. This is possible due to the availability of a pool of stem cells in their body.
Stem cells replace damaged cells in humans as well but the magnitude of damaged and dead cells during the ageing process overtakes the regeneration process by stem cells plus the pool of stem cells in humans keeps decreasing as we age. The Klotho gene has been identified as the age-suppressing gene. Research is underway to understand the potential effect of Klotho genes on stem cells in extending lifespan and health span and reversing the signs of ageing.
Applications of Stem Cell Technology in Ageing
Stem cell technology is extensively used in studying the process of ageing and in developing therapeutic applications to reverse ageing. Stem cell technology offers a novel and unique approach to dealing with age-related disorders and developing strategies to promote stem cells’ clinical applications. Introducing stem cells in the body can help the existing cells to rejuvenate and increase lifespan. Following are the various applications of stem cell technology in ageing:
- Damaged tissue regeneration: Stem cells can be programmed to differentiate into specific tissue and thus help in regenerating damaged tissue that comes along with ageing
- Enhanced repair mechanism: Stem cells can assist in the production of growth factors and molecules that can enhance the repair of damaged cells and tissue associated with ageing.
- Immune system modulation: Stem cells may also exhibit immune modulatory effects, thus improving the immune system and preventing infection.
- Inflammation reduction: Stem cells have anti-inflammatory effects which could be used to reduce the inflammation caused by chronic inflammation associated with age.
- Oxidative stress protection: Stem cells can protect cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals thus reversing signs of ageing.
Benefits of Stem Cell Technology for Ageing
Stem cell technology holds great potential in reversing the signs of ageing and improving health in ageing individuals. Ageing is inevitable. Using stem cells, we can delay the ageing process and enhance our healthspan and lifespan. Stem cell technology has the following benefits in terms of ageing:
- Improved vitality and rejuvenation
- Enhanced physical performance
- Increased libido
- Reduced inflammation and pain
- Robust immunity
- Boost in energy
- Better skin and hair
- Enhanced resilience to stress
Challenges and Ethical Considerations
Stem cell technology offers a great vision to understand human ageing and development as well as discover new treatments for diseases, such as diabetes, Parkinson's, and myocardial infarction. However, stem cell technology is surrounded by several ethical challenges. Since stem cells are derived from embryonic cells, the technology faces backlash due to ethical concerns. Following are the challenges and ethical issues concerning stem cell technology:
- Consent of the donor
- Destruction of embryos
- Medical risks
- Payment to donors
- Risks associated with experiments
- Confidentiality of donors
- Use of human DNA in creating animal oocyte stem lines
- Genetic modification of cells
Current Research and Breakthroughs
Research in stem cell technology is being conducted globally to understand the process of ageing and slow down its pace. Ageing is accompanied by several age-related disorders and researchers are working to reduce these disorders and improve the health span of individuals.
- Curing Age-related Macular Degeneration: Scientists have been able to slow down and reverse the age-related degeneration of the macula (a small area of the retina responsible for sharp vision) using stem cell technology. The research involved transplanting autologous induced pluripotent stem cells in the patient’s eye. The transplant improved vision and was well-tolerated.
- Reducing Age-related Bone Loss: Scientists have discovered a signalling pathway called the Notch pathway in skeletal stem cells and progenitor cells of bone marrow. This pathway was genetically engineered such that bone marrow stem cells were transformed into bone-making cells instead of adipocytes, increasing bone mass. This demonstrates a promising therapeutic potential for treating age-related bone loss in humans.
- Improved Skin Health: A recent study published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine demonstrated that stem cells in mice can improve skin health and reduce skin wrinkles by inducing the production of collagen.
Prospects of Stem Cell Technology
Recently, stem cell technology has become a promising research topic in reversing ageing, discovering novel medical treatments, and enhancing the quality of life.
- Haemopoietic stem cell transplantation: Hematopoietic stem cells have the potential to be used as regenerative medicine for patients with life-threatening diseases.
- Stem cells for pharmacological testing: New drugs can be tested on stem cells before reaching the markets and used on humans.
- Stem cells as an arthroplasty alternative: regeneration capacities of tendons in patients and athletes with torn tendons are compromised, resulting at the end of their professional career. Several studies investigate the therapeutic effects of stem cells in such injuries.
- Rejuvenation by programming cells: Genes, such as Oct4, Sox2, and OSKM genes could be used for effective regenerative treatment. The cells are programmed in a way to induce these genes and reverse the ageing process.
Stem cell technology holds immense promise in reversing not only the signs of ageing but also reducing age-related disorders effectively. Stem cell technology has been able to unfold the complexity of the ageing process and find novel ways to enhance longevity and health span. Stem cells have a remarkable capacity to regenerate and repair damaged tissues which have been extensively used to treat age-related disorders, such as bone loss, vision impairment, skin health, Alzheimer’s, osteoarthritis, and heart diseases. Stem cell technology gives an insight into ageing at the molecular level and also pathways to innovate personalised medicines and treatments. Though stem cell technology has been surrounded by ethical and safety concerns, it is essential to carry out stem cell therapy in a safer and regulatory way to discover novel innovations to deal with ageing and increase productivity in the elderly population.
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1) Can stem cell technology help Alzheimer’s patients?
Yes, stem cell research has been extensively used to develop novel ways to treat age-related neurodegeneration as observed in Alzheimer's.
2) What is stem cell technology?
Stem cell technology refers to the use of stem cells in biological research to discover novel ways of treatments and understand molecular processes.
3) Is stem cell technology ethical?
Stem cell technology has been surrounded by ethical concerns due to the involvement of stem cells derived from human embryos and donors’ somatic cells. However, scientists are trying their best to resolve such issues by considering consent, and privacy and conducting safe research.
4) Who discovered the stem cell?
Stem cells were first discovered by Ernest McCulloch and James Till in the 1960s.
5) Can stem cell research reverse ageing?
Stem cell technology is a promising technology that has the potential to delay and reverse ageing age-related disorders. Several researchers are conducting studies on stem cells and their applications in delaying ageing.
6) Do stem cells decrease with age?
Yes, stem cells decline with age and as a result, our body’s capacity to revive old and dead cells diminishes, resulting in age-related disorders.
7) How are stem cells taken?
Stem cells are taken either from the embryo during the blastocyst stage or induced from donors’ somatic cells.
8) Where are stem cells present in the human body?
Stem cells are found throughout the body, such as the liver, bone marrow, skin, blood, and heart.