Reprogramming stem cells to treat disease and extend lifespan

Posted on Friday, April 29, 2016

New research from the University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Research Institute (uOBMRI) reveals how reprogramming stem cells can improve their function in multiple organs, effectively increasing health and lifespan. This reparative function has potential to advance therapies in a myriad of diseases, from muscular dystrophy, liver or kidney disease to neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Current stem cell research typically involves the transplantation of the stem cells into the body as a way to cure or reduce symptoms of a disease or disorder. The uOBMRI’s Dr. Keir Menzies and his colleagues at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne and ETH Zurich, Switzerland, have found a biological pathway that can improve energy production in the existing stem cells of a body. The engines of the cell, cellular mitochondria, can be modified through this pathway during aging and disease with the dietary addition of nicotinamide riboside, a special form of vitamin B3 found in milk and other foods. This treatment enhances stem cells already in the body, effectively helping the cells repair organs affected by disease and extending lifespan.

This finding is key in advancing stem cell therapeutic options, beyond those targeted by stem cell transplantation, as it reveals a new treatment option for instances where injected stem cells may be rejected by the body or in brain diseases whose location can make the targeting of these cells more challenging.

“This particular treatment avenue will open the door to pharmaceutical approaches that can even better target this same mechanism and further improve the regenerative abilities of adult stem cells,” says Menzies, an associate professor with the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences. “This research could both lead to unique treatments of numerous diseases or simply help to extend lifespan in humans.”

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