Replacing old tissue with cell therapy
In the world of anti-aging research, a key fundamental aspect to aging is cell division. Many types of cells in the body are designed to die after a certain period of time, such as skin cells. As they are lost to everyday wear and tear, millions of these cells get replaced every day in a continuous cycle. However, as we age, these cells stop being able to reproduce. This process, called senescence, is believed to underlie the aging process in many tissues.
But there is a certain type of cells, known as pluripotent stem cells, that can theoretically divide forever. “All of us are descendants of a lineage of cells that has lasted for billions of years,” said Mike West, CEO of the US company AgeX Therapeutics.
AgeX develops stem cells as therapies for age-related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. According to West, treating these diseases with regenerative cell therapy is akin to treating the aging process itself, like replacing old parts with new. “A valid way of keeping cars on the road is replacing one of the components,” he told me.
The company keeps ‘progenitor’ stem cells that can transform into specific cell types that replace lost tissue. For example, AgeX is developing a therapy intended to treat type 2 diabetes by replacing lost brown fat cells.
AgeX is also developing potentially revolutionary drugs to treat the aging process. These drugs are designed to partially revert adult cells back to a regenerative stem cell stage, letting them proliferate and regenerate damaged tissue, just like the mexican salamander.
Currently in preclinical development for treating coronary heart disease, this treatment has been met with some scepticism from other experts in the field. Some of the big objections put forward are that the aging process is incredibly complex, and that senescence is an unavoidable consequence of cells doing their diverse jobs around the body.
However, West is enthusiastic about the future of the treatment. “Bringing the cells part way back to a regenerative mode in humans has kind of been done in a couple of papers,” he told me. “It’s a new idea for sure and I welcome skepticism. It’s fun to be the only person doing something.”