Over a decade ago, a 95-year-old man died in France and donated his body to science. Although he had died six days previously, researchers were able to “revive” his muscle stem cells in the lab and turn them into muscle-making super cells. This unconventional study inspired our own Dr. Jeff Dilworth, who was fascinated by the potential to grow new muscles despite the patient’s age when he died.
Dr. Dilworth is a senior scientist in The Ottawa Hospital’s Regenerative Medicine Program, which includes the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research and the Sinclair Centre for Regenerative Medicine. Dr. Dilworth studies epigenetics, which he describes as “what makes our stem cells supercharged when we’re young and completely ineffective when we’re old.” In fact, his research was awarded The Ottawa Hospital’s Chrétien Researcher of the Year Award for 2021 based on a major discovery they made related to muscle repair.
Previously, it was thought that muscle stem cells would divide in a balanced way to repair an injury —carefully creating just enough muscle fibres to repair the damage while also preserving enough stem cells for future repair.