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Stem cell regeneration is something many people have throughout the past years been researching and looking into. You see, the older we get the less our intestinal stem cells are able to regenerate which can have some drastic health effects.

When we lose the ability to regenerate these specific stem cells we also can end up struggling with different conditions within the intestines. While for a long time we didn’t know how to kick start this regeneration phase once more after getting older, an MIT study might have figured something out. An MIT study from a few years ago apparently found that age-related loss of stem cell function could potentially be reversed by fasting for roughly 24-hours.

While this study was merely a mouse study, it has placed a lot of new questions on our minds. The researchers working on this study found that fasting improved the stem cells’ ability to regenerate drastically in both old mice and young mice. This meaning if things prove through properly in humans, we might really have things figured out.

MIT News wrote as follows on this topic back in 2018:

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. Such an intervention could potentially help older people recovering from GI infections or cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, the researchers say.

“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,” says Omer Yilmaz, an MIT assistant professor of biology, a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and one of the senior authors of the study. “Understanding how fasting improves overall health, including the role of adult stem cells in intestinal regeneration, in repair, and in aging, is a fundamental interest of my laboratory.”

David Sabatini, an MIT professor of biology and member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the Koch Institute, is also a senior author of the paper, which appears in the May 3 issue of Cell Stem Cell.

“This study provided evidence that fasting induces a metabolic switch in the intestinal stem cells, from utilizing carbohydrates to burning fat,” Sabatini says. “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.” 

The paper’s lead authors are Whitehead Institute postdoc Maria Mihaylova and Koch Institute postdoc Chia-Wei Cheng.

While most people will overlook these findings, the things they could lead to could be enormous depending on how research progresses in the future. Not only did fasting in these mice boost regeneration, but it also seemed to aid them metabolically. Only time will tell what more we can learn from these results.