Stem Cell Research Focuses on Turning Back the Clock on Aging

Regenerative medicine originated in the early years of genomics and DNA research. Researchers achieved a degree of success in their quest to repair aging tissues of the human body by creating young cells through cloning. Today, regenerative medicine uses stem cells, particularly embryonic pluripotent stem cells, to regenerate tissue affected by the aging process.

The deterioration of the human body through the aging process begins when reproductive cells lose the ability to divide and proliferate to repair tissues damaged by disease or the passage of time. The continued decline in the ability to produce new cells to repair the body ultimately ends with death.

Scientists and researchers identified adult stem cells within the human body with the ability to repair tissue damaged by injury or disease. These adult stem cells have a finite life and eventually lose their ability to regenerate tissue.

In 2001, researchers succeeded in cloning human embryos. The purpose of the experiment was to replicate embryonic stem cells for use in making adult stem cells regain their regenerative properties. The cloning of human embryos led to debates over the ethics and legalities associated with such research.

The controversy surrounding embryonic stem cell research led researchers in another direction. Scientists like Susan Lim worked with adult stem cells to find a method of restoring the regenerative abilities of the adult cells. In her presentation entitled “The Role of Stem Cells in Anti-Aging Medicine” at the First Asian Conference on the Science of Aging and Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Lim discussed the future of stem cells in reversing the deterioration of tissue as people age.

Researchers in Japan and the United States developed a method for taking an adult stem cell back to its embryonic state but without the use of human embryos. The researchers succeeded in reengineering the adult stem cells into induced pluripotent stem cells, or IPS cells. The IPS cells have the regenerative properties of embryonic stem cells, but they avoid the controversy attached to embryonic stem cell research.

The IPS cells work without the need to clone a new embryo. Additional research with IPS cells continues as scientists look for a way to create IPS cells that will allow a doctor to treat a patient with a damaged heart muscle by implanting IPS cells with regenerative properties to rebuild and restore the damaged tissue.

As promising as the current strides toward reversing the aging process might appear, scientists are quick to caution that IPS cells continue to have a finite life span. An issue that arises when the aging process is delayed or reversed involves the risk of cancer. Research indicates that the finite life of some cells within the body might be a natural protection against the onset of cancer. Scientists want to determine if extending a person’s life expectancy could be exposing the person to a greater risk of developing cancer.