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Embryonic Gene Nanog Reverses Aging in Adult Stem Cells

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The images above show, from left to right, functioning stem cells, stem cells no longer functioning, and stem cells functioning after being rebooted by the embryonic stem cell gene Nanog. Credit: University at Buffalo/Stelios Andreadis.

The fountain of youth may reside in an embryonic stem cell gene named Nanog. In a series of experiments at the University at Buffalo, the gene kicked into action dormant cellular processes that are key to preventing weak bones, clogged arteries and other telltale signs of growing old. The findings also show promise in counteracting premature aging disorders such as Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome. “Our research into Nanog is helping us to better understand the process of aging and ultimately how to reverse it,” says Stelios T. Andreadis, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the study’s lead author. To battle aging, the human body holds a reservoir of nonspecialized cells that can regenerate organs. These cells are called adult stem cells, and they are located in every tissue of the body and respond rapidly when there is a need. But as people age, fewer adult stem cells perform their job well, a scenario which leads to age-related disorders. Reversing the effects of aging on adult stem cells, essentially rebooting them, can help overcome this problem. In the study, Panagiotis Mistriotis, a graduate student in Andreadis’ lab and first author of the study, introduced Nanog into aged stem cells. He found that Nanog opens two key cellular pathways: Rho-associated protein kinase (ROCK) and Transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β). In turn, this jumpstarts dormant proteins (actin) into building cytoskeletons that adult stem cells need to form muscle cells that contract. Force generated by these cells ultimately helps restore the regenerative properties that adult stem cells lose due to aging.