Peter Nygard, a Finnish-Canadian, is a millionaire fashion designer who claims he is getting younger because of stem cell treatment. The University of Miami is currently using Peter as a test case to see whether stem cells can reverse ageing.
There two main types of stem cells:
• Adult stem cells – these stem cells regenerate us daily. For example, they make new skin every day, and divide in a controlled way so we have just enough skin. If they were uncontrolled the result would be cancer. They can also be used to grow replacement organs
• Embryonic – these are the ethically challenged cells from frozen embryos.
There are videos on the internet featuring patients who have received stem cell therapy and claim they not only have more energy, but that scars have faded, they have fewer wrinkles and that heart problems have disappeared. This is providing hope for people whose organs are failing.
The ageing mechanism has been described as divided into upstream and downstream events. An upstream event would be DNA damage. One theory is that shortening telomeres contribute to age-dependent accumulation of DNA damage in stem cells which lose self-renewal capacity and this leads to physical degeneration (the downstream event). Telomeres are fragile sites that are difficult to replicate and carry intrinsic properties that can inhibit DNA repair processes.
Anti-ageing work may intervene at both the upstream and downstream phases. Although studies have shown that subjects given EPA/DHA fish oil supplements showed an increase in telomere lengths, targeting the upstream phase is a largely unexplored area for gerontologists.
Lengthening telomeres through medical or biological processes is basically still science fiction. Medicine’s focus is on correcting the damage once it has emerged downstream, such as chronic inflammation which inflicts age-related changes on specific tissues.
It is likely that one day new organs will be available for transplant, and that telomere length may be lengthened artificially. But given the two ways of tackling ageing – upstream and downstream – we would choose upstream in a flash. Many studies have shown that a healthy lifestyle can reverse the shortening of telomeres and repair organ damage. Even better, we practise stress-reduction, thought-control and healthy living. Then we won’t need to be a fashion millionaire to pay for stem cell therapy.