Fasting Doubles the Regenerative Capacity of Stem Cells: Study

Such treatment could benefit cancer patients who are receiving chemotherapy, which often harms intestinal cells.

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Fasting dramatically improves stem cells’ ability to regenerate.
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The age-related loss of intestinal stem cell function can be reversed by a 24-hour fast as per a new study by biologists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The study revealed that fasting dramatically improves stem cells’ ability to regenerate, in both aged and young mice.

The findings suggest that drug treatment could stimulate regeneration without requiring patients to fast, which is difficult for most people.

Such treatment could benefit cancer patients who are receiving chemotherapy, which often harms intestinal cells. It could also benefit older people who experience intestinal infections or other gastrointestinal disorders that can damage the lining of the intestine.

The Study

The age-related loss of intestinal stem cell function can be reversed by a 24-hour fast.
The age-related loss of intestinal stem cell function can be reversed by a 24-hour fast.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

In fasting mice, cells begin breaking down fatty acids instead of glucose, a change that stimulates the stem cells to become more regenerative.

The researchers found that they could also boost regeneration with a molecule that activates the same metabolic switch.
Fasting has many effects in the intestine, which include boosting regeneration as well as potential uses in any type of ailment that impinges on the intestine, such as infections or cancers. 
Omer Yilmaz, Assistant Professor of Biology, MIT

He is also one of the authors of the study. Another senior author of the study, David Sabatini said:

This study provided evidence that fasting induces a metabolic switch in the intestinal stem cells, from utilizing carbohydrates to burning fat. Interestingly, switching these cells to fatty acid oxidation enhanced their function significantly. Pharmacological targeting of this pathway may provide a therapeutic opportunity to improve tissue homeostasis in age-associated pathologies.
David Sabatini, Professor of Biology, MIT

The Result

Intestinal stem cells are responsible for maintaining the lining of the intestine, which typically renews itself every five days.

When an injury or infection occurs, stem cells are key to repairing any damage. However as people age, the regenerative abilities of these intestinal stem cells decline, so it takes longer for the intestine to recover.

After mice fasted for 24 hours, the researchers removed intestinal stem cells and grew them in a culture dish, allowing them to determine whether the cells can give rise to ‘mini-intestines’ known as organoids.

The researchers found that stem cells from the fasting mice doubled their regenerative capacity. They sequenced the messenger RNA of stem cells from the mice that fasted and found that fasting induces cells to switch from their usual metabolism, which burns carbohydrates such as sugars, to metabolizing fatty acids.

According to the researchers, this switch occurs through the activation of transcription factors called PPARs, which turn on many genes that are involved in metabolizing fatty acids.

They found that if they turned off this pathway, fasting could no longer boost regeneration and they could reproduce the beneficial effects of fasting by treating mice with a molecule that mimics the effects of PPARs.

The study was published on 3 May in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

(With inputs from IANS.)

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