discoveries magazine

Young at Heart

Specialized Stem Cells May Have Potential to Reverse Cardiac Aging

Illustration: Richard Mia

The fountain of youth may be a myth, but a new Cedars-Sinai study presents the prospect that one very important organ might ultimately be rejuvenated: the heart.

“Our previous laboratory studies and human clinical trials have shown promise in treating heart failure using cardiac stem cell infusions,” says Eduardo Marbán, MD, PhD, director of the Smidt Heart Institute, the Mark Siegel Family Foundation Distinguished Chair, and the study’s senior investigator. “Now we find that these specialized stem cells could turn out to reverse problems associated with aging of the heart.”

Marbán’s team injected cardiac-derived stem cells from newborn animals into elderly ones. The scientists then compared the hearts of injected older animals with a placebo group (no stem cell injection), and a young, healthy group.

Older animals receiving cell injections showed anti-aging effects that were evident in improved heart function, longer heart cell telomeres (protective “caps” on chromosomes that shorten with age), enhanced exercise capacity of nearly 20 percent, and increased rate of hair regrowth after shaving, compared with placebo.

“We are optimistic, but have much to study, including whether it is preferable for cardiac-derived stem cells to come from a younger donor to have these rejuvenating effects,” says Lilian Grigorian-Shamagian, MD, PhD, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow at Cedars-Sinai.

Disclosure: Marbán devised the process while on faculty at Johns Hopkins University and developed it at Cedars-Sinai. Capricor Therapeutics licensed relevant intellectual property from Cedars-Sinai for clinical and commercial development, and Cedars-Sinai and Marbán have financial interests in the company.