Study says older adults can still grow new brain cells

Credit: Christopher Furlong

Credit: Christopher Furlong

A new study debunks the idea that old age causes people to lose the ability to grow new brain cells, New Scientist reported. Healthy people in their 70s seem to generate just as many new neurons as teenagers, the study reveals.

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The new findings give a positive snapshot of the healthy aging brain, researchers said.

"It's good news that these cells are there in older adults' brains," lead researcher Dr. Maura Boldrini, an associate professor at Columbia University in New York City, told CBS News.

The study was published online April 5 in the journal “Cell Stem Cell.”

It's not clear if new brain cells would function the same way as younger adult brain cells do, said Dr. Ezriel Kornel, an assistant clinical professor of neurosurgery at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

Kornel, who was not involved in the study, told CBS News the findings offer a "hopeful" message.

"Even as we age," he said, "we still have the capability of producing new neurons."

Boldrini’s team examined brain tissue from 28 people between the ages of 14 and 79 who had died suddenly, but had previously been healthy, CBS News reported.

According to the study, older and younger brains had similar numbers of "intermediate" progenitor cells and "immature" neurons -- a sign that older people had the same ability to generate new cells as young people, CBS News reported.