Stem Cell Mutations Chance Increase with Donor Age

stem cell mutations
Scientists are studying the affect of age on stem cells.

Obtaining induced pluripotent stem cells could get a bit more difficult in the coming years, but not because there’s a lack of donors. Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute and the Scripps Translational Science Institute recently found that the older a donor is, the more likely his or her cells would show genetic stem cell mutations when the cells divide.

“It’s imperative professionals examine people before they use their cells for treatment.”

This study, published in Nature Biology, indicated that it’s imperative doctors or scientists examine people before they use their cells for treatment or other medical situations.

“If you’re getting cells from these older donors, these seed cells that you use for reprogramming already have some accumulation of mutation load, and so that is actually very important evidence, especially when they are looking at the potential functions of these mutations,” said bioengineer Kun Zhang, who was not a part of the study, to The Scientist.

To conduct the study, researchers took blood samples from three different studies containing a total of 16 patients from 21 to 100 years of age, and study co-authors Valentina Lo Chardo and Will Ferguson each created iPSCs. Researchers then observed methylation patterns in the stem cells. They not only found 336 mutations in the study, but also realized that 24 of them could cause tumors to grow or cells to improperly function.

STSI Director Eric Topol, another of the study’s co-authors, said doctors are already using iPSCs in Japan, but added that it’s important to figure out how aging affects stem cells used in treatments.

“Using iPSCs for treatment has already been initiated in Japan in a woman with age-related macular degeneration,” said Topol. “Accordingly, it’s vital that we fully understand the effects of aging on these cells being cultivated to treat patients in the future.”

Kristin Baldwin, co-lead investigator, noted how groundbreaking the study is, saying they were the first to develop iPSCs from elderly people. The authors had initially doubted their abilities to produce iPSCs.

“When we proposed this study, we weren’t sure whether it would even be possible to grow iPSCs from the blood of the participants in the Wellderly Study, since others have reported difficulty in making these stem cells from aged patients,” said Baldwin. “But through the hard work and careful experiments designed by Valentina and Will, our laboratories became the first to produce iPSCs from the blood of extremely elderly people.”

Stem cells have the unique ability to transform when induced into other types of cells. These cells can then be used to treat an array of conditions or be part of studies that help scientists better understand how the body functions. A study, like the one conducted by Lo Chardo and Ferguson​, could help scientists and doctors understand the importance of screening patients before treating them with stem cells.