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Age Rewind: Harnessing the Power of Stem Cells to Turn Back the Clock

By Nachiket Nagda

Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock…...As time passes by, millions of biological processes take place inside our bodies. Over time, the efficiency of these processes decreases due to a natural and inevitable process, ageing. We all are meant to survive until a certain age, beyond which our cells, tissues and organs stop working. As we age, our biological clock also changes significantly. There is a change observed in our sleep cycle, metabolism, circadian rhythms and hormonal regulation. What if there is a way to stop or slow down this change? What if we can reverse this ageing and reset our bodies to function the same way it was at their healthiest? The answer to all these questions is Stem Cells. Scientists have been working on Stem Cells for years and their remarkable application in therapeutics. This technology has a lot more potential, and scientists have been tirelessly trying to uncover and reap maximum benefit from it. Many experiments have been conducted that have shown stem cells to heal damaged organs, repair cells and tissues and improve overall health and lifespan.

Stem Cells are unique and undifferentiated cells that develop into other specialised types of cells like skin cells, nerve cells, muscle cells, etc., and have the ability to self-renewal. They are important for the growth and development of an organism. There are four types of stem cells based on their developmental potential – Embryonic Stem Cells, Adult Stem Cells, Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells and Mesenchymal Stem Cells. They have immense potential in drug delivery, regenerative medicine, neurodegenerative therapeutics, tissue repairing, disease modelling and cancer.

Due to their ability to self-renew and differentiate into different types of cells, Stem Cells have recently been used in reverse-ageing technologies to help improve the overall health of the person. This can be achieved by:

1. Cardiac Regeneration: Cardiovascular diseases are one of the major reasons for most illnesses and deaths. This happens due to improper cardiac functioning and compromised tissue repair. Stem Cells like Adult Stem Cell or Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells can stimulate blood vessel growth and repair cardiac muscles and damaged arteries, enhancing overall heart health. This can help in increasing the lifespan of humans.

2. Cognitive Enhancement: Neurodegenerative disorders, especially Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, are major age-related problems that many people face. Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells have proven to be very effective in brain cell regeneration which enhances neural connections and improves cognitive performance. It can also be used to repair damaged nerve cells or replace them to slow down and treat neurodegenerative conditions.

3. Tissue Regeneration: Stem cell-based therapies have been used for cartilage regeneration in osteoarthritis, where the injected stem cells cause the growth of new cartilage. This helps in the functioning of the joint.

4. Skin Rejuvenation: The most striking feature of ageing is the changes in the skin, pigmentation issues, appearance of dark spots and wrinkles and loss of elasticity of the skin. Mesenchymal stem cells or growth factors from stem cells can be used to stimulate collagen production and enhance skin elasticity, skin pigmentation and other skin-related issues.

5. Maintaining Hormonal Balance: Hormone levels decline as we age, which causes a lot of health issues. Stem cells can be used to rejuvenate sex hormone-producing tissues like the pituitary and testes/ovaries. Hormone production can be enhanced using this technology, and age problems related to low hormone levels/hormonal imbalance can be mitigated.

Recently, Scientists from Harvard were able to restore a mouse's vision. The old mice had poor eyesight, and their retinas were damaged. A harmless virus carrying the Yamanaka factors (transcription factors) was injected into the damaged ganglion cells. The pluripotent genes were activated using an antibiotic. The damaged neurons started rejuvenating and grew new axon projections. This technique was applied to other mice cells like brain and muscle, where reverse ageing was observed. Scientists plan to apply this technology to the entire body.

Despite the infinite potential stem cells have, there are a lot of ethical issues that exist.

• One of them is the use of Embryonic Stem Cells. Being totipotent, they can be used as a source of every cell in our body. It raises ethical concerns as the extraction of these cells causes the destruction of the whole embryo. If continued, embryos will be created solely for research purposes, which is morally incorrect.

• Human manipulation is another question that is raised. Using stem cells, humans can be superpowered; the privileged ones will be benefitted as they have the money and resources to buy and utilize these technologies for their own good. This may lead to the creation of another species, one that is superior, leading to the destruction of the other.

• Rigorous scientific research is required to master the use of stem cells. This also requires high efficacy and safety. Unregulated use of this technology may pose a threat to the patient. Consent of stem cell donors is also important before they are used for experimentation.

Reverse ageing using stem cells is a ground-breaking scientific advancement that can improve the longevity and overall health of humans. We may not have discovered the depths of this technology, and the true fountain of youth might still be locked, but it isn’t long enough before this technology blooms, and with the remarkable research going on, stem cell-based treatments will soon take over therapeutics to treat age-related problems. This will pave the way for a healthier and more vibrant future.

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