Researchers from Cambridge have arrived at a revolutionary new theory behind the ageing process that offers an explanation as to why people may become frail in their 70s.
As part of the Clonal dynamics of haematopoiesis across the human lifespan study, researchers studied blood cells from newborns to people in their 70s and 80s. Their findings revealed that adults under 65 had a wide range of red and white blood cells produced by 20,000 to 200,000 different types of stem cells in their bone marrow.
In the participants who were over 65, approximately half of their blood cells came from only 10 to 20 different types of stem cells
Scientists theorise that because blood composition changes as people get older- creating a higher risk of impaired vision, blood cancers and anaemia- similar changes may be happing with the organs throughout the body, and could possibly explain why older people may feel fit for years before experiencing a rapid decline in their 70s to 80s.
According to Dr Peter Campbell, the senior author of the study and head of the cancer, ageing and somatic mutation programme at the Sanger Institute in Cambridge, “ultimately the goal would be slowing or intervening in the ageing process,” allowing people to become biologically younger than their chronological age.
Such an idea might sound like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, but research conducted by the National Institute of Health proved that it was indeed possible to rejuvenate an older mouse by infusing blood from a much younger mouse.
While Campbell and his team aren’t currently creating an “elixir of youth,” their latest findings may debunk the previous theory that the gradual buildup of mutation cells in a person’s body was the reason why one’s ability to function degrades over the years.
Writing in Nature, the researchers explained that while stem cells that create blood pick up mutations over time, more often than not, these changes are harmless. The issue occurs when a rare “driver” mutation causes stem cells to grow faster while producing lower-quality blood cells.
“The exponential growth explains why there is such a sudden change in frailty after the age of 70, why ageing hits at that sort of age,” said Campbell.
Faster-growing blood stem cells are also the cause of blood cancers and anaemia and cause people to develop limited immunity to infections and treatments like chemotherapy.
Cambell says he and his team will continue to dig deeper into their research, hoping to learn more about these newly discovered mutations affecting the blood function in the elderly. Noting that they would also be observing the same process in the skin to better grasp why aging leads to wrinkles and slower wound healing.
They will also be looking at how to minimise disease risk, promote healthy aging, and potentially how to reverse our body’s aging process.
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