New Study Finds Boosting Stem Cells' 'Garbage Disposal' System Could Combat Aging

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What exactly are stem cells? Stem cells are cells that can grow into a variety of different types of cells in the body. They function as the body's repair system. Scientists believe that because of their particular properties, these cells may hold the answer to reversing aging. reports that a new study published in Cell Stem Cell found that improving stem cells' "garbage disposal" system might help guard against age-related diseases.

Blood stem cells use a unique method to dispose of misfolded proteins, according to researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, and the activity of this system diminishes with age.

This degeneration can subsequently cause problems with our blood and immune systems, such as anemia, blood clotting disorders, and even cancer.

Eliminating Damaged Stem Cells

According to the study, discovering ways to help these stem cells dispose of damaged proteins more effectively might aid in the prevention or treatment of age-related diseases.

To keep stem cells healthy, the homeostasis of proteins in the cells must be maintained, which implies they must be of good quality. Stem cells produce proteins at a slower rate than normal cells, which helps to prevent errors. 

Nonetheless, errors do occur, and proteins might be damaged. The researchers sought how stem cells ensure that damaged proteins are properly eliminated to avoid developing into toxic cells.

When proteins are damaged or misfolded in cells, they are usually tagged for disposal and broken down by a protein destroyer called the proteasome. However, scientists discovered that proteasome activity was lower than predicted in some cells known as hematopoietic stem cells or HSCs.

They determined that HSCs employ a different system to eliminate these damaged proteins through a series of experiments. They gather the damaged proteins into aggresomes, which are eventually eliminated by another component of the cell, the lysosome, in a process known as aggrephagy.

The author suggested that by keeping a collection of damaged proteins in one specific place, stem cells are forming their cache of resources that can be accessed when needed, such as after an injury or when it is time to regenerate.

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As the researchers genetically blocked the aggrephagy pathway, the stem cells began to collect aggregated protein, impairing their fitness, lifespan, and regenerative ability.

Researchers' Discovery

The researchers observed that while virtually all young stem cells possessed aggresomes, they were almost totally gone at a specific point in aging. 

The authors believe that the inability of stem cells to properly eliminate misfolded proteins as they age is a major contributor to their diminishing function and the resultant age-related diseases.

"Our hope is that if we can improve stem cells' ability to maintain the aggrephagy pathway, we will preserve better stem cell fitness during aging and mitigate blood and immune disorders," noted senior study author Robert Signer, Ph.D., associate professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

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