- Researchers from Zhejiang University transferred a part of the plant cell that turns light into energy into mice in the hope of treating the condition
- Tests produced ‘promising’ results that suggested the transplants boosted a process that helps to grow and repair cells in the body
A team of Chinese scientists have transplanted photosynthetic proteins from spinach into animal cells, potentially opening the door to technology that could delay the ageing process in cells.
The researchers from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou also said their tests showed “promising clinical potential” in treating degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis.
They transferred from plant to mammalian cells a photosynthesis system that can enhance cell anabolism, a metabolic process that grows and repairs cells in the body.
Photosynthesis, which means “putting together through light”, is the process by which plants get energy from sunlight. A plant traps the sun’s energy with its leaves and uses it to make glucose from water and carbon dioxide.
“We constructed a completely natural photosynthesis system that can independently facilitate the supply of key energy and metabolic carriers in cells based on exposure to light,” the researchers wrote in a study published on Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.
“Our therapeutic strategy for degenerative diseases is based on a natural photosynthetic system that can controllably enhance cell anabolism by independently providing key energy and metabolic carriers.”
In the study, the scientists isolated thylakoids, a part of the cell where light reactions take place in plants, from young spinach leaves.
Water is oxidised during this process, releasing electrons that are transferred to two molecules, known as ATP and NADPH, which play a key role in the anabolic process.
The researchers said it was difficult to correct impaired anabolism and optimise the level of ATP and NADPH under pathological conditions.
They said their aim was to use the spinach thylakoid “to improve cell anabolism of degenerated cartilage to treat osteoarthritis”, and used membranes derived from the cartilage cells of mammals to introduce them into the body.
To test whether the transferred photosynthesis system can reverse the metabolic state of diseased cells, the team tested it on osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease that mainly afflicts the elderly in which joint tissues break down over time.
In the disease, pathological cartilage cells show depletion in ATP and NADPH, the authors said.
After experiments with human cartilage samples and mice, the team found that the thylakoids increased the levels of ATP and NADPH within cells after light exposure and improved anabolism in degenerated cartilage cells.
“They can also correct energy imbalance and restore cellular metabolism to improve cartilage homeostasis [the state of internal balance] and protect against pathological progression of osteoarthritis,” they wrote in the Nature paper.
The research team has applied for a patent for its new technology and started to turn it into a product, Zhejiang University said on its WeChat account.