For the first time, scientists have reprogrammed the stem cells of a 114-year-old woman, the oldest donor to date.
After first transforming cells from her blood sample into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), the researchers then generated mesenchymal stem cells, which help to maintain and repair tissues like bone, cartilage and fat.
“We set out to answer a big question: Can you reprogram cells this old?” says stem cell biologist Evan Snyder at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in California.
“Now we have shown it can be done, and we have a valuable tool for finding the genes and other factors that slow down the aging process.”
Stem cells are sometimes called “cellular Rosetta stones“, because they allow us to study disease, cancer, ageing and regeneration like never before.
The most valuable type are embryonic stem cells (ESCs), but their acquisition is linked to some ethical issues, and such cells can be difficult to get a hold of. Thankfully, somatic cells, or adult stem cells, can be found in any human; we have the technology to genetically reprogram these units into induced pluripotent stem cells, which are nearly as potent as ESCs.
Until now, however, we weren’t sure just how long an adult’s cells remain programmable in this way. While some previous research suggests older stem cells cannot be reprogrammed, in recent years, scientists have been able to generate iPSCs from centenarians, or people who live to be more than 100 years old.
So, what about those who’ve won an even