Media Releases

“Fountain of Youth” technique rejuvenates aging stem cells

November 28, 2012

Study moves scientists one step closer to creating youthful heart patches from old cells

TORONTO, ON — A new method of grow­ing car­diac tis­sue is teach­ing old stem cells new tricks. The dis­cov­ery, which trans­forms aged stem cells into cells that func­tion like much younger ones, may one day enable sci­en­tists to grow car­diac patch­es for dam­aged or dis­eased hearts from a patient’s own stem cells—no mat­ter what age the patient—while avoid­ing the threat of rejec­tion.

Stem cell ther­a­pies involv­ing donat­ed bone mar­row stem cells run the risk of patient rejec­tion in a por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion, argues Mil­i­ca Radis­ic, Cana­da Research Chair in Func­tion­al Car­dio­vas­cu­lar Tis­sue Engi­neer­ing at the Insti­tute of Bio­ma­te­ri­als and Bio­med­ical Engi­neer­ing (IBBME) and Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Chem­i­cal Engi­neer­ing and Applied Chem­istry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to.

One method of avoid­ing the risk of rejec­tion has been to use cells derived from a patien­t’s own body. But until now, clin­i­cal tri­als of this kind of ther­a­py using elder­ly patients’ own cells have not been a viable option, since aged cells tend not to func­tion as well as cells from young patients.

It’s a prob­lem that Radis­ic and her co-researcher, Dr. Ren-Ke Li, think they might have an answer for: by cre­at­ing the con­di­tions for a ‘foun­tain of youth’ reac­tion with­in a tis­sue cul­ture.

Li holds the Cana­da Research Chair in Car­diac Regen­er­a­tion and is a Pro­fes­sor in the Divi­sion of Car­dio­vas­cu­lar Surgery, cross-appoint­ed to IBBME. He is also a Senior Sci­en­tist at the Toron­to Gen­er­al Research Insti­tute.

Radis­ic and Li first cre­ate a “micro-envi­ron­ment” that allows heart tis­sue to grow, with stem cells donat­ed from elder­ly patients at the Toron­to Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal.

The cell cul­tures are then infused with a com­bi­na­tion of growth factors—common fac­tors that cause blood ves­sel growth and cell proliferation—positioned in such a way with­in the porous scaf­fold­ing that the cells are able to be stim­u­lat­ed by these fac­tors.

Dr. Li and his team then tracked the mol­e­c­u­lar changes in the tis­sue patch cells.

“We saw cer­tain aging fac­tors turned off,” states Li, cit­ing the lev­els of two mol­e­cules in par­tic­u­lar, p16 and RGN, which effec­tive­ly turned back the clock in the cells, return­ing them to robust and healthy states.

“It’s very excit­ing research,” says Radis­ic, named one of the top inno­va­tors under 35 by MIT in 2008 and win­ner of the 2012 Young Engi­neers Cana­da award.

Li and Radis­ic hope to con­tin­ue their goal to cre­ate the most effec­tive envi­ron­ment in which cells from old­er patients can be giv­en new life. “We can cre­ate much bet­ter tis­sues which can then be used to repair defects such as aneurysms,” Li says, as well as repair­ing dam­age caused by heart attacks.

The study was recent­ly released in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Car­di­ol­o­gy, the top jour­nal in the field of car­dio­vas­cu­lar med­i­cine.


For  more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Erin Vol­lick
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Offi­cer
Insti­tute of Bio­ma­te­ri­als and Bio­med­ical Engi­neer­ing
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: (416) 946‑8019