Ms Hendrikje Van Andel-Schipper, who died at 115 years of age.

Ms Hendrikje Van Andel-Schipper, who died at 115 years of age.

HUMANS have long searched for the so-called ‘Fountain of Youth’, a magic elixir that will restore youth and prolong our lives and, so far, we have had limited success. There is no doubt that people are now living longer and surviving illnesses that would have killed them 20 or 30 years ago.

However, there is a fascinating study underway in Holland at present where scientists were thrilled to bits when the oldest woman in the world, Hendrikje Van Andel-Schipper, donated her 115-year-old body to science. She was in reasonably good health up to her death and had never succumbed to dementia.

The doctors are searching her DNA for clues about her longevity and have already discovered, to their utmost surprise, that she only had two active stem cells at the time of her death.

Scientists estimate that everyone starts their life with about 20,000 stem cells, 1,300 of which are considered active. They didn’t believe that a person could still be alive with only two cells working away.

They now suspect that stem cell exhaustion could have caused the death of Ms Andel- Schipper and that it could also be the cause of death for many people who live to ripe old ages. If proven, the implications for aging are significant. If there’s a limit to the life of stem cells, that’s a limit to human life. But what if you could replenish them? Work goes on.