Stem Cells: The Fountain of Youth

By Anna D Guanche MD FAAD
Board-Certified Dermatologist
Founder, Bella Skin Institute 

Is the fountain of youth near you? So near in fact that it may be inside your own body? What tells your cells to act their age? With cells that have the same nucleus, cell membranes and genetics that they’ve had since birth, is there some way you can get your cells to act younger?

Humans have been harnessing nature in their favor for a long time. We call it science. We have harnessed a terrifying lightning bolt and determined how to use it to serve us in a myriad of ways. Electricity can cook a man or just cook a man’s dinner. We have found that a mold that spoils our food can be harnessed to save countless lives from syphilis and other deadly infectious diseases. Thank you, Dr. Alexander Fleming, for discovering the antibacterial effects of Penicillium. Perhaps my favorite is the discovery that a bacterium that causes food poisoning secretes a chemical that inactivates muscles. This is terrifying when you have an active infection from Clostridium botulinum bacteria, but delightful when the protein it releases has been separated carefully and is used to reduce wrinkles. Yes, I’m referring to the game-changing beauty procedure of Botox®. As we observe these marvels of nature, we can be inspired to harness nature in our favor in new and exciting ways.

Stem cells are a fascinating area of research and have been studied for many years in the pursuit for disease cures. Stems cells are the human body’s master cells. They have the ability to grow into any one of the body’s more than 200-plus cell types. They are unspecialized cells that are all from the same genetic background or family type. They retain the ability to divide throughout life and give rise to cells that can become highly specialized to take the place of cells that die or are lost. Stem cells contribute to the body’s ability to renew and repair its tissues. Unlike mature cells that are permanently committed to their fate, stem cells can both renew themselves and create new cells of whatever tissue they belong to—as well as other tissues.

Bone-marrow stem cells are the most primitive, from which all cells, especially various blood types, are descended, hence the use of bone-marrow transplants that replace abnormal blood disorders. Remember, though, that the DNA of these cells must match to a great degree in order for them to “take.” This is why registries exist. Not just any stem cell will do. The DNA must be compatible. In fact, the perfect match for a stem cell is our own! Believe it or not, there are also stem cells stored in our fat (adipose tissue)— something we have all been trying to get rid of may become our new treasure trove.

During the aging process, the number of stem cells present throughout the body decreases. This is why cells begin to die faster without having the same quality that they once had. Declining levels of adult stem cells mean damage can be essentially left unrepaired almost anywhere in the body. The older we get, the more our bodies must redirect resources to vital organs and away from hair, skin, and nails.

Stem-cell treatments can restore and replenish tissue in key areas of concern. The cells must not only be “moved” to the desired location, but they must be activated. They know which cells to divide into and replenish based on cells that are near them. This is known as cellular induction. But again, the transferred cells must be a genetic match and must be intact, healthy, and activated. It turns out that stem-cell potential remains but activity declines. After all, our stem cells have been with us a good while as well. Parabiosis, when stem cells are bathed in a younger serum, may induce them to “act” younger. There are other methods for activating stem cells, including telomere extension. These are intricate processes that are still being perfected.

As you can tell if you’ve made it to this point, stem cells are tricky and complex. Replenishment of them has the potential promise of health and youth, however it must be done correctly. There are stem cell creams being sold and even stem cells from other creatures being sold, but my bet is on your own exact genetic match, which comes only from you (or your identical twin). There are strict regulations about the ethical use of stem cells, and for good reason. Like electricity, until we understand more about how to control and regulate them, potential for danger and misuse exists. Regardless of the challenges, this burgeoning concept is moving forward like a freight train. It is only a matter of time before pluripotent stem cells will be harnessed in our favor. We might just be standing at this moment in our very own fountain of youth!

The statements in this article are for general
informational purposes only and do not
substitute for individual medical advice.