Researchers have discovered a new method that tricks ageing stem cells into a rejuvenating mode that could help design youthful patches for damaged hearts and heal them.

According to researchers, the breakthrough may enable scientists to create such life giving patches from a patient’s own stem cells — regardless of the patient’s age — 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 University of Toronto.

One method of avoiding the risk of rejection has been to use cells derived from a patient’s own body.

However, 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.

“If you want to treat these people with their own cells, how do you do this?” asks Radisic.

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, Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported.

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.

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

“We saw certain ageing 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.

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