US and German researchers have managed to turn back the clock on blood stem cells, making them effectively younger, according to new results in the journal Cell Stem Cell from a team led by Dr Hartmut Geiger. The research overturns previous ideas suggesting that ageing of these cells - also known as haematopoietic stem cells - was genetically pre-programmed and unchangeable.
As we age, these stem cells become less effective at regenerating our blood and immune cells, helping to explain why older people are more susceptible to infections and other illnesses such as anaemia and cancer. The scientists discovered that this ageing process is controlled by a protein called Cdc42, and that blocking it could restore the properties of young blood stem cells to older ones. At the moment the research has only been done in mice, but the team is hopeful that one day they’ll be able to turn back the clock in human blood stem cells.