Researchers have found that mice who fast for a day were able to regenerate their intestinal stem cells. Mice have been a model organism for decades as they react similarly to humans to a variety of factors.
We use mice for drug testing, understanding psychological factors, and for many other research endeavors because their experiences have been found to mirror that of humans in similar situations.
“Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.” — David Bowie
One area that researchers are focusing on is anti-aging. Humans have always dreamed of being able to live longer and healthier lives. As we have created better medicines and technologies, we have been able to do so, but at a cost. While we are living longer than previous generations, we are not living healthier lives.
As we age, our bodies become less effective at doing the things that it normally does, like regenerating skin cells or building muscles. One of the tell-tale signs of aging is wrinkles because our bodies cannot make skin cells as effectively as it did when we are relatively younger. Because of this loss of effectiveness, we are now more vulnerable to diseases and conditions that further deteriorate our minds and bodies.
One of the main areas that researchers are working on to address aging and its problems is stem cells. To address the aging and decline of intestinal cells, researchers here have been looking at how we can restore them using mice as a model to mirror the human body.
Fasting And Stem Cell Regeneration
Eating habits have been shown to affect tissue regeneration in many organisms, including humans. Intermittent fasting has been also shown to have positive effects on organisms that engage in this behavior. Some of these effects included improved health and tissue functions related to age.
In this study, the researchers wanted to address short-term fasting and the role of stem cells in improving cellular regeneration because it was an area not well studied.
The researchers created two groups of mice: a group of young ones and another of older mice. Both groups were subjected to a 24hr fast to see if there were any effects within the intestinal region of these mice.
After 24hrs, the researchers found that the intestinal cells changed their behaviors as they went from breaking down carbohydrates to breaking down fat. Once these cells started breaking down fat, they also started to enhance the functionality of the intestinal stem cells.
The researchers found that during fasting, transcription factors (responsible for turning DNA to RNA) were activated that promote the breakdown of fatty acids instead of carbohydrates. These transcription factors, called PPARS, would promote regeneration when turned on and could potentially be used as a solution towards regeneration outside of fasting.
“The regenerative medicine revolution is upon us. Like iron and steel to the industrial revolution, like the microchip to the tech revolution, stem cells will be the driving force of this next revolution.” — Cade Hildreth
The second part of the study focused on these transcription factors as the researchers tested them outside of fasting. They found that if the PPARS were activated when not fasting, intestinal stem cell regeneration occurred. Fasting was not the cause of the beneficial results, it was the transcription factors.
This finding is important because it opens up a new avenue of treatment options for dealing with intestinal cell regeneration. Creating drugs that can activate PPARS outside or along with fasting would help to reverse the effects of age-related intestinal decline.
Beyond aging, this discovery could help patients whose intestinal cells have been damaged due to things like infections, diseases, and chemotherapy. This discovery also encourages the researchers to look to other parts of the body that could share similar regenerative functions.
The researchers are turning their sites towards other parts of the body in hopes of finding other regenerative pathways that could be activated by fasting and/or a drug capable of triggering these pathways. Doing so would greatly address the degeneration the results from aging allowing us to live our longer lives in healthier ways.
Stem Cells And Regeneration
As we become better at creating and manipulating stem cells, we are discovering that they can provide a treasure trove of uses to improve and save human lives. Stem cells are a kind of blank cell that is capable of becoming any other specialized cells within our bodies. The extent of this depends on the particular type of stem cell, but its use is nonetheless impressive.
Heart disease is a major problem in the United States that affects most of us. One of the emerging treatment options for it is the use of stem cells. One area of study involves creating healthy heart muscle cells that can be implanted in the hearts of patients with some sort of cardiovascular disease. Initial studies involving mice and other animals have shown that introducing these cells can improve heart quality and combat heart disease.
For individuals suffering from type 1 diabetes, which is an auto-immune disorder that results in the destruction of pancreas cells, stem cells can offer a solution. Research is ongoing to use stem cells to create insulin-producing cells that could be transplanted into a patient to restore the loss of pancreatic cells.
“Stem cell research holds enormous promise for easing human suffering, and federal support is critical to its success.” — Tom Harkin
Other research areas include creating tissue and potentially organs that can be transplanted into a patient who needs it and minimize the risk of rejection. Being able to avoid rejection of tissues is a hallmark potential of stem cell technologies because there are many individuals on waiting lists for transplant. Being able to create tissues would also help to reduce these lists and save even more patients.
Many of these studies are new and ongoing. But, if we continue understanding them we may be able to address any concerns that diminish the quality of life for many people around the world. We may even be able to extend our lifespans further, but that remains the stuff of science fiction for now.
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