Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered a new target for therapy that one day could help repair muscle damage and maintain strength and mobility in seniors.
In a mouse study, Helen Blau, PhD, the Donald and Delia B. Baxter Foundation Professor at the medical school, and colleagues identified a process by which older muscle stem cell populations can be rejuvenated to function like younger cells. They published their findings in a paper in Nature Medicine.
“In mice, we can take cells from an old animal, treat them for seven days—during which time their numbers expand dramatically, as much as 60-fold—and then return them to injured muscles in old animals to facilitate their repair,” Blau said.
The researchers tested the ability of the rejuvenated old muscle stem cell population to repair muscle injury and restore strength in two-year-old recipient mice.
“We were able to show that transplantation of the old treated muscle stem cell population repaired the damage and restored strength to injured muscles of old mice,” said co-author Scott Delp, PhD, the James H. Clark Professor in the School of Engineering. “Two months after transplantation, these muscles exhibited forces equivalent to young, uninjured muscles. This was the most encouraging finding of all.”
The researchers plan to continue their research to learn whether this technique could be used in humans.
“If we could isolate the stem cells from an elderly person, expose them in culture to the proper conditions to rejuvenate them and transfer them back into a site of muscle injury, we may be able to use the person’s own cells to aid recovery from trauma or to prevent localized muscle atrophy and weakness due to broken bones,” Blau said. “This really opens a whole new avenue to enhance the repair of specific muscles in the elderly, especially after an injury. Our data pave the way for such a stem cell therapy.”