Harvard Stem Cell Research Institute (HSCI) scientists have recently demonstrated that the protein GDF11 improves brain and skeletal muscle function in aging mice. Two studies, one led by Professor Amy Wagers, PhD, and one led by Lee Rubin, PhD, of Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology (HSCRB), demonstrated the regenerative capacity that higher concentrations of GDF11 could have. Injections of the protein led to improvements in the olfactory region of the brains of older mice (such that they began functioning like the olfactory regions of much younger mice) and led to improved exercise capabilities in older mice. The GDF11 protein is found in humans as well as mice, and Wagers and Rubin believe that the first human clinical trials involving the protein could be initiated in three to five years. Wagers is a stem cell biologist whose research focuses on muscle, while Rubin’s research focuses on neurodegenerative diseases and stem cell-related drug tailoring. Their work demonstrates the wide impact the protein could have on various bodily systems. An earlier study co-authored by Wagers revealed the protein’s ability to reverse characteristics of aging in the heart. “[T]his shows that it is active in multiple organs and cell types,” said Wagers. Additionally, Rubin believes GDF11 could play a serious role in developing drugs to correct the cognitive deficits associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. Doug Melton, PhD, co-chair of HSCRB and co-director of HSCI, said he couldn’t “recall a more exciting finding… from stem cell science and clever experiments. This should give us all hope for a healthier future.” The topic regenerative medicine took center stage at the 9th annual Swedish-American Life Science Summit Conference in Stockholm this year. The attendees discussed a range of regenerative medical issues, as well as their potential impact on the global problems associated with an aging population. Many researchers have been conducting studies looking into the abilities of stimulating protein production to address degenerative processes. Dr. Karin Hehenberger, chief medical officer and executive vice president at New York-based Coronado Biosciences (CNDO), said, “we are now at a new frontier in regenerative medicine, with the ultimate goal of preventing the world’s major diseases from happening, or at least halt the destruction prior to organ dysfunction.” She added that when organs have been destroyed completely, the only way to mend them is through cell therapy (embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, or xenografts). She also noted that, in addition to cell therapy, it is essential to keep the immune system in check, which would require immune therapy in many cases.

Read more about GDF11 here, and more about the Swedish-American Life Science Summit here.