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Personal stem cell banks could help slow aging diseases
November 5, 2011

by Wendy Rigby / KENS 5

SAN ANTONIO -- You've heard of blood banks and sperm banks. Now, San Antonio scientists say someday we may use stem cell banks.

In the Biomaterials Lab at the U.T. Health Science Center, researchers are zeroing in on a fascinating finding. Stem cells, the immature cells that have the potential to become bones, muscles and nerves, are less numerous and less vigorous as we age.

But if they are placed in a dish with a natural matrix of proteins from a younger organism, they regenerate and regain their youthful power.

"The idea is whether or not we can take those cells out to provide a better system, environment, to rescue those stem cells," explained Xiao-Dong Chen, MD, Ph.D., a stem cell researcher at UTHSC. "We call it rejuvenation."

In a study published in the May edition of a major biology journal, Chen and his colleagues showed their promising results in lab mice.

Scientists could create more and better stem cells from older animals when they were harvested from bone marrow and placed in a protein bed from younger animals. In other words, if they gave the stem cells fertile soil in which to grow, they became robust.

The implications are enormous. Now, UTHSC scientists are working on adult human stem cell samples from about a hundred patients. They can be stored in liquid nitrogen at -150 degrees and last for at least ten years. Call in an experimental stem cell bank.

"You can use your own stem cells just like the money you bank," Chen projected. "You can use your own cells."

It's not the fountain of youth, but using your own banked stem cells could someday help slow down the aging process.

Using your own stem cells may eventually help with many age-related diseases. Scientists think it has potential to treat everything from arthritis to Parkinson's disease.

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