What do older mice and older women have in common? Menopause. But research in mice suggests that stem cells can postpone ovarian aging and improve the quality of life for older mice (and perhaps women).
In the keynote address at the annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society, called, “Can Science Turn Back the Clock on Ovarian Aging?” Jonathan L. Tilly, Ph.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, both in Boston, described research showing that adult mouse ovaries contain stem cells that can generate new eggs, and these eggs can be fertilized to yield viable offspring.
Mice, it turns out, undergo “mouseopause,” Dr. Tilly said, meaning that their ovarian reserve is depleted before they die. But Dr. Tilly and his colleagues found that if stem cells from the ovaries of older mice are transplanted into younger mice, they will continue to differentiate into eggs.
“Most people don’t care about postponing mouseopause,” Dr. Tilly said. But parallel studies show that primate ovaries have stem cells similar to those in mice. These early findings question the long-held belief that a woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have and that the number declines with age and can’t be reversed.
The implications of these findings go beyond fertility, though; Dr. Tilly and his colleagues also have shown that sustaining ovarian function in mice by maintaining an adequate stash of eggs makes the mice healthier, without the aging joints, aging skin, or cancer seen in naturally aging mice.
This research is highly preliminary, but the findings suggest that pursuing ways to prevent or delay ovarian failure could make a huge difference in the quality of life for all women as they age.
Calling Mickey and Minnie: You have put it off since when? 1930? But thanks to modern medicine, you might still be able to start that family (just don’t do it in my basement).
–Heidi Splete (on twitter @hsplete)