The very idea of this gives promise for us as we get older, with the potential for muscle weakening to be less of a problem for us, keeping our bodies strong and fit, with only the occasional use of stairlifts.
A team of researchers from Britain and the USA began by investigating how stem cells in muscle repair actually damage tissue, so that the fibres divide in order to develop more new muscle fibres. As we age our muscles find it less easy to regenerate themselves and so bulging muscles are exchanged for limbs that are not as strong.
The researchers studied old mice and found that the number of dormant stem cells lessens with age, and this was traced to growing levels of a protein that stimulates cell divide: FGF2. So, as a muscle ages, the FGF2 protein continually awakens dormant stem cells, meaning that they are not being awakened when they are needed and muscle regeneration is impaired.
From this conclusion, the scientists went on to find a drug that restricted FGF2 from awakening dormant stem cells, and then went on to test this on aging lab mice. By treating the mice with SU5402, the ability to repair muscle tissue in older muscles was improved dramatically. The drug is currently only licensed for laboratory use, but this research may go on to develop a drug that is licensed for therapeutic use.
Dr Albert Basson, one of the senior researchers from King’s College London, is incredibly excited about the findings of the study which have just been published in a scientific journal, and has said that the study has been the first to uncover a process that could be responsible for the decline of muscle repair that is related to aging. He went on to say that if treatments are developed from this research, it may mean that people can continue to live “more mobile, independent lives as [we] age”.
According to Dr Andrew Black, co-author of the research, it’s all about “recovery time”, and the problem is that aging stem cells spend less time resting and more time working. Although it will still be many years before a marketable drug is on the shelves, until then we can help out our bodies and use devices to support our muscles as we get older, such as walk in baths.
Image credit: Jjv14 (commons.wikimedia.org)