British researchers say they have discovered several key ways a species of flatworm combats aging to become “potentially immortal” and the findings could shed light on alleviating aging and age-related characteristics in human cells.
The team, from the University of Nottingham, has been studying the stem cells of planarian worms for clues to their natural ability to regrow damaged and aged tissues. The research is aimed at uncovering anti-aging processes that could lead to new treatments of age-related conditions in humans.
"We've been studying two types of planarian worms,” said Dr. Aziz Aboobaker, of the University's School of Biology. “Both appear to regenerate indefinitely by growing new muscles, skin, guts and even entire brains over and over again.”
He explained that when stem cells divide — to heal wounds, during reproduction or for growth — they show signs of aging and become less able to replace tissues and cells.
But, he added: “Planarian worms and their stem cells are somehow able to avoid the aging process and to keep their cells dividing."
The team’s new findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on the genetic processes tied to the aging of cells and the action of “telomeres,” which are associated with longevity.
“Our data satisfy one of the predictions about what it would take for an animal to be potentially immortal and that it is possible for this scenario to evolve,” said Aboobaker. “The next goals for us are to understand the mechanisms in more detail and to understand more about how you evolve an immortal animal."