April 18, 2017
“If only,” wrote an ancient Japanese poet, “when one heard that Old Age was coming one could bolt the door….”
Science is working on it.
Aging is as much about the physical processes of repair and regeneration — and their slow-motion failure — as it is the passage of time. And scientists studying stem cell and regenerative biology are making progress understanding those processes, developing treatments for the many diseases whose risks increase as we get older, while at times seeming to draw close to a broader anti-aging breakthrough.
If stem cells offer potential solutions, they’re also part of the problem. Stem cells, which can differentiate into many cell types, are important parts of the body’s repair system, but lose regenerative potency as we age. In addition, their self-renewing ability allows the mutations that affect every cell to accumulate across cellular generations, and some of those mutations lead to disease.
“We do think that stem cells are a key player in at least some of the manifestations of age,” said Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology David Scadden, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. “The hypothesis is that stem cell function deteriorates with age, driving events we know occur with aging, like our limited ability to fully repair or regenerate healthy tissue following injury.”