It's the stuff of many a nasty fairy tale, but researchers have found that old mice can be rejuvenated by giving them certain blood factors from young mice.
The transfer made old stem cells take on the characteristics of young ones, and even made the older mice's tissues appear younger.
Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center (JDC) studied the blood stem cell aging process in young and old mice.
They found that as osteoblasts age, they change the signals that they send to stem cells, making the stem cells less able to produce the right mixture of blood cells.
But in a series of tests in which two mice shared a common blood circulation, the scientists discovered that this aging mechanism could be reversed.
In old mice paired with young mice, existing osteoblasts showed signs of rejuvenation. Remarkably, this rejuvenation was communicated to the stem cells as well, so that the blood-forming abilities of these aged mice took on much more youthful characteristics.
"What’s most exciting is that the changes that occur in blood stem cells during aging are reversible, through signals carried by the blood itself,” said Amy Wagers, who led the research. “This means that the blood system offers a potential therapeutic avenue for age-related stem cell dysfunction."
The team says that the findings open up exciting new avenues of research. These include the potential for studying other types of tissues that aren’t as well understood, in which aging may be regulated by stem-niche cell interactions in a similar way.