A huge anti-ageing breakthrough has possibly been made after a recently published study reveals how scientists working in San Diego, California have made mice appear younger after six weeks of treatments.
The mice were subjected to a new gene therapy that involved reprogramming their body’s cells—after which they their spines were straighter and their cardiovascular health was improved, they healed quicker, and they lived 30% longer than untreated animals. They also didn't develop tumors either, which has happened in similar experiments, and so makes the treatment even more impressive.
Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte of the Salk Institute in the US who led the study said: “Our study shows that ageing may not have to proceed in one single direction. It has plasticity and, with careful modulation, ageing might be reversed.” He adds "“This is the first time that someone has shown that reprogramming in an animal can provide a beneficial effect in terms of health and extend their lifespan."
The technique involves turning adult cells back into stem cells (very similar to those seen in embryos), which are then able to grow into various types of specialist cells.
The Guardian explain:
The rejuvenating treatment given to the mice was based on a technique that has previously been used to “rewind” adult cells, such as skin cells, back into powerful stem cells, very similar to those seen in embryos. These so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells have the ability to multiply and turn into any cell type in the body and are already being tested in trials designed to provide “spare parts” for patients.
The latest study is the first to show that the same technique can be used to partially rewind the clock on cells – enough to make them younger, but without the cells losing their specialised function.
“Obviously there is a logic to it,” said Reik. “In iPS cells you reset the ageing clock and go back to zero. Going back to zero, to an embryonic state, is probably not what you want, so you ask: where do you want to go back to?”
The treatment involved intermittently switching on the same four genes that are used to turn skin cells into iPS cells. The mice were genetically engineered in such a way that the four genes could be artificially switched on when the mice were exposed to a chemical in their drinking water.
The scientists tested the treatment in mice with a genetic disorder, called progeria, which is linked to accelerated ageing, DNA damage, organ dysfunction and dramatically shortened lifespan.
After six weeks of treatment, the mice looked visibly younger, skin and muscle tone improved and they lived 30% longer. When the same genes were targeted in cells, DNA damage was reduced and the function of the cellular batteries, called the mitochondria, improved.
The techniques they used can't be immediately transposed for use in humans, but clinical uses could be around 10 years away. It does also give scientists a new way to look at the diseases associated with getting old—instead of treating the diseases themselves health carers can treat ageing itself instead.
That's not to say we'll stop ageing completely, that's not what this points to—but it does show that ageing can be slowed down and so life expectancy can be increased.
“We believe that this approach will not lead to immortality,” said Izpisua Belmonte. “There are probably still limits that we will face in terms of complete reversal of ageing. Our focus is not only extension of lifespan but most importantly health-span. These chemicals could be administrated in creams or injections to rejuvenate skin, muscle or bones. We think these chemical approaches might be in human clinical trials in the next ten years.”