As we age, the makeup of our bodies will begin to change—this includes our bones, which may even start to thin, causing fractures and even diseases like osteoporosis. But thanks to new research, there could actually be a cure on the way to help slow the aging of our bones. Per a recent study published in the journal Nature Aging, a "fountain of youth" substance can help preserve bone marrow stem cells that can heal brittle bones, and it's called acetate.
A group of scientists out of the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging and the University of Cologne explain that to get to their findings, they needed to research epigenetics, the study of stem cell function based on genetics. They discovered that when proteins are altered (formally named histones), stem cell function decreases in bone marrow because of the ties to DNA in the cells. The team continued by looking into mesenchymal stem cells to see how they were impacted by epigenetics. These stems cells are found in bone marrow and create other cells, such as cartilage, bone, and fat cells.
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"We wanted to know why these stem cells produce less material for the development and maintenance of bones as we age, causing more and more fat to accumulate in the bone marrow. To do this, we compared the epigenome of stem cells from young and old mice," Andromachi Pouikli, the first study author, said in a university release. "We could see that the epigenome changes significantly with age. Genes that are important for bone production are particularly affected."
To replenish stem cells' epigenome, the researchers tended to mouse bone marrow stem cells with an acetate solution. Ultimately, the cells helped enzymes connect to histones, which inevitably increased DNA activity and attachment to genes. "This treatment impressively caused the epigenome to rejuvenate, improving stem cell activity and leading to higher production of bone cells," Pouikli said. In comparison to humans, the scientists found that the same epigenetic changes were found in them than in mice, based on mesenchymal stem cell samples from elderly hip surgery patients.
"Sodium acetate is also available as a food additive, however, it is not advisable to use it in this form against osteoporosis, as our observed effect is very specific to certain cells. However, there are already first experiences with stem cell therapies for osteoporosis. Such a treatment with acetate could also work in such a case. However, we still need to investigate in more detail the effects on the whole organism in order to exclude possible risks and side effects," Peter Tessarz, the study leader, said.