Question of the Week Podcast

Question of the Week episode

Sun, 30th Sep 2012

Would self bone marrow transplants reverse aging?

Bone marrow biopsy (c) Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Chad McNeeley

We find out if banking our bone marrow early in life, and transplanting down the line, may help halt the aging process. Plus we ask, why are we so good at forgetting names?.....

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  • Would self bone marrow transplants reverse aging?

    I was trying to think of a way to reverse aging. And I thought about all errors that accumulate in your DNA over the years and I wandered what would happen if you donated blood at an early age and then received transfusions of your own blood when you were older? I assume there...



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A bone marrow transplant is effective for certain blood-related disease. But for repairing aged, 'broken' DNA a more complex approach is needed. I personally have absolutely no medical knowledge whatsoever, but I did once stay at a Holiday Inn. So my layman response is that it is feasible to reverse cellular DNA damage by delivering replacement/ undamaged genetically compatible DNA to the tens of trillion cells throughout the human body. So to start, yes, it would be helpful to set aside stem cells at a very early age, for example, to cryogenically preserve these cells taken from your own umbilical cord after birth. At later stages in life, this undamaged DNA could be harvested, replicated, then delivered to your body through some sort of vector, such as in viral-mediated gene therapy. I suppose there will eventually be non-viral gene delivery mechanisms developed in the future, such as chemical, mechanical or perhaps using nanotechnology....microscopic delivery bots. kckuhns, Mon, 24th Sep 2012

The most common cell in blood is red blood cells. These have no DNA, do not replicate, and have a very short lifetime in the body, so transfusing these will have minimal benefit. White blood cells are les frequent, and rather specialised, but have a full set of DNA. However, all the blood cells originate in the marrow, so treating the marrow could be a useful therapy for genetic diseases affecting the blood.

Every time a cell divides, there is a small chance that a random transcription error will occur which is not corrected by the cell.

This is especially important for cells which divide frequently throughout life, including stem cells and sperm-generating cells. A recent study showed that sperm accumulate an average of 2 extra random mutations for every additional year of a man's age.

One day we may be able to safely correct a specific genetic defect in a cell, but this works best for systematic mutations which are identical in every cell of the body, not for random mutations which may be different in every cell line in the body. eg see:

Reliably delivering this therapy to every cell in the body would be a real challenge. So perhaps it could be applied to stem cells in vitro, which could then be multiplied and reintroduced into the adult body (after checks for successful DNA correction, lack of cancerous behavior, specialisation for treating certain tissues, etc).

To avoid buildup of random mutations, the therapy is best applied to stored stem cells which just have the target systematic mutation, but minimal random mutations. This suggests a stem cell which is captured at a young age. Perhaps collected at birth, such as from the placenta. Over time, the "corrected" stem cells may be able to take over from the "faulty" ones.

There has been recent progress in picking up fetal white blood cells from the mother's circulation, even before birth. In the long term, perhaps the best time to apply gene therapy may be before birth? evan_au, Sat, 29th Sep 2012

Cord Blood, of course, gives a "marrow transplant", rather than just replacing the blood.

However, to be effective, one would have to irradiate one's own bone marrow, which is a brutal, and dangerous procedure, and would not be a good procedure for "anti-aging".

And, the most effective bone marrow transplants are from close matches, not perfect matches, thus causing a minimal amount of graft vs host disease.  Thus, one might be better off using one's sibling's cord blood, rather than one's own autologous donation.

Nonetheless, one is only rejuvenating one's own blood.  There are many other cells in the body such as skin cells that would still be OLD. CliffordK, Sun, 30th Sep 2012

I don't think you'd necessarily have to ablate your own bone marrow with radiation before a transplant, Clifford, assuming you were infusing your own cells. The new, youthful, cells would merely take up residence in bone marrow niches alongside their more elderly counterparts... chris, Tue, 2nd Oct 2012

Sorry for the slight change in subject:
You quote Anne Corcoran of the Babraham Institute suggesting amongst other immune system boosters "a healthy diet high in antioxidants".
From reading such works as Ben Goldacre's 'Bad Science', I had formed the impression that there was little if any basis for claiming health benefits for anti-oxidant rich foods and supplements. Has this now changed, or did I miss the point in the first place? JamesHarvisonStuart, Tue, 16th Oct 2012

If we took ethics aside, imagine the following: MAYBE your young clones could provide all the progenitor cells you need to live healthy ever after. However, the point is: we don't yet know all the pathways for tissue renewal. For instance, Neuroblasts injected to the blood stream would have possibly no effect at all in replacing ageing neurons in the brain or spinal chord. An interesting experimental model would be to promote bone marrow transplants from youngling syngenic mice to elder ones, to evaluate if there would be an immune response improvement to a major ageing related cause of death pathogen infection. Philip, Thu, 30th Apr 2015

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