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Old rats appeared newly invigorated after receiving injections of cardiac stem cells from young hearts, a study published in the European Heart Journal reveals. Dr. Eduardo Marban, primary researcher in the study, compares the results to “an unexpected fountain of youth.”

The search for better heart treatments is nothing new. For some 12 years, Dr. Marban has studied new forms of cell therapy to treat the failing heart, including research into cardiosphere-derived cells. Cardiosphere-derived cells — which are a type of progenitor cell — are derived from stem cells of the heart itself. As a group, progenitor cells share some, but not all, of the properties of their originating stem cells. For instance, progenitor cells cannot divide and reproduce indefinitely as stem cells can.

Through previous research, Marban had discovered that progenitor cells derived from the cardiosphere can promote healing of the heart after heart failure with preserved ejection fraction — a condition sometimes similar to aging that affects more than 50% of all heart failure patients. He decided to take his research a step further.

The Study

In his new study, Marban tested rats considered to be old (22-months) with a type of heart problem that was “typical of what [his team] found in older human beings: The heart’s stiff, and it doesn’t relax right, and it causes fluid to back up some.”

Cardiosphere-derived cells from newborn rats were injected into the hearts of the elderly rats, while similar rats received a placebo injection. The groups were then compared to 4-month-old rats, and compared again a month later.

The injected cardiac stem cells not only improved heart function in subjects, but also increased their quality and growth of fur, lengthened their chromosomal telomeres (which tend to shrink with age) and produced a 20% increase in stamina over the control group.

Is it Transferable?

Marbán hypothesizes that the cells secrete exomes that act on the hair and make it better, as well as mediating long-distance effects on exercise capacity and hair regrowth. These exomes are tiny vesicles that “contain a lot of nucleic acids, things like RNA, that can change patterns of the way the tissue responds to injury and the way genes are expressed in the tissue.”

Capicor, Therapeutics, Inc., a biotechnology company developing cardiosphere-derived progenitor cells, has been FDA approved in therapies for muscular dystrophy and heart failure, with ongoing clinical trials involving human patients.

While Capicor hasn’t announced plans to study aging just yet, the cells have been “proven completely safe in over 100 patients … [so] it could easily be done from a safety viewpoint.”

This story originally appeared on CNN.

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