The video below provides an in-depth explanation of the role and function of stem cells in the human body, their aging process, and the potential of stem cell therapy.
In the early stages of embryo development, pluripotent stem cells are created, which have the ability to differentiate into various tissues in our body. However, these cells quickly become specialized, meaning they can only contribute to the tissue in which they reside.
For instance, stem cells in the brain only produce new brain cells, and those in the gut produce gut cells. Almost all our organs contain a small population of these tissue-specific stem cells.
The lifespan of cells varies across different tissues. Cells in the heart, skeletal muscle, brain, and the lens in the eye have a long lifespan. In contrast, cells in the skin, gut, and blood have a short lifespan.
For example, the inner lining of the gut is renewed every week, and the skin is replaced completely every month. This regeneration is made possible by tissue-specific stem cells, which continuously replace cells that have become damaged. These stem cells can be seen as nature’s own anti-aging mechanism.
As we age, the functionality of tissue-specific stem cells decreases, making healing and recovery slower and more difficult. This reduced functionality is directly related to reduced stem cell functionality.
As stem cells divide, they replicate their DNA and pass this on to their daughter cells. DNA damage is detrimental for stem cells, and diseases that result in increased levels of DNA damage typically cause problems with regenerating tissue and premature aging.
A special case of DNA damage relates to the ends of chromosomes, also referred to as telomeres, which shorten a little bit with every cell division. If the ends become too short, a stem cell cannot properly divide anymore.
Stem cell therapy is a potential solution that aims to solve this problem. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) are pluripotent themselves with the ability to lengthen telomeres, rejuvenate cellular health, and regenerate damaged tissue. This could potentially allow us to live longer and enjoy a higher quality of life.