Health

Science can now reprogram cells to be younger

The new research breakthrough paves the way to create a pill to reverse ageing. Image source: Getty

Harvard Medical School researchers have found a way to reprogram cells to a younger state.

Scientists - led by Australian professor David A. Sinclair - found 6 chemical cocktails in the human body that can restore adult cells to a youthful state and reverse our genetically-destined age in less than a week.

These 6 new chemical cocktails could, in combination, reverse cellular ageing and rejuvenate human cells.

Published in Aging, this really is a breakthrough

The implications of this new discovery are far-reaching, opening avenues for regenerative medicine and, potentially, whole-body rejuvenation. 

“Until recently, the best we could do was slow ageing. New discoveries suggest we can now reverse it,” says Professor David A. Sinclair, the lead scientist on the project who is also codirector of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research at Harvard Medical School. 

“This process has previously required gene therapy, limiting its widespread use.”

This new breakthrough means we really could get an anti-ageing pill that turns back our biological clock.

“This offers the potential to reverse ageing with a single pill, with applications ranging from improving eyesight to effectively treating numerous age-related diseases,” Sinclair says.

Gene therapy - and its cousin 'genome editing' - allows doctors to treat a disorder by altering a person’s genetic makeup instead of using drugs or surgery. This new breakthrough has the potential to be applied as a drug therapy.

This new Harvard Medical School research found that ageing cells - also called senescent - can be restored through nucleocytoplasmic protein compartmentalisation (NCC for short). There are 6 chemical cocktails that restore NCC and genome-wide transcript profiles to youthful states and reverse age in less than a week.

Image: Reproduced from press release about the scientific breakthrough. Read the full study on Aging.

Ever heard of epigenetics? This new discovery is related

Epigenetics is a field of study that details how our behaviour and environment make our genes do things like make our hair grey or our ageing hormones hold on to more belly fat. 

This new epigenetic breakthrough relates to the Yamanaka factors, a Nobel-prize winning discovery of four ‘transcription factors’  - which are sometimes also called the OSKM genes – that read our genetic code.

These Yamanaka factors can potentially be used to transform an ageing cell into a more youthful stem cell.

The catch is that too much of these Yamanaka factors will wipe out cells, and cause more damage than good.

But this new research from Harvard Medical School means the Yamanaka factors could allow us to make the clock tick backwards, moving the field from ageing research to epigenetic rejuvenation research.

The Harvard researchers have demonstrated that it is indeed possible to reverse cellular ageing without uncontrolled cell growth by virally-introducing specific Yamanaka genes into cells.

A drug to reverse age

This diagram from a famous anti-ageing scientific paper called The Hallmarks of Aging also helps explain the role epigenetic drugs (in the green circle at the bottom) might be able to play to restore the biological clock.

The Hallmarks of Aging is a famous scientific paper that explains the biological elements of ageing

The idea that ageing is a progressive loss of physical function that increases our vulnerability to death is being challenged by new scientific research. Humans are also living longer, and there is renewed interest in the idea of 'super-agers'.

We know that ageing is a primary risk factor for things like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. However scientists are discovering the rate of ageing is controlled by genetic pathways and biochemical processes conserved in evolution.

Essentially, by studying stem cells that help embryos turn into humans and how our genes and biochemical markers evolve over time, science is evolving new therapies, approaches and drugs that can slow, reduce and now potentially reverse ageing.

Want to know more about how ageing might become a treatable disease?

Professor David A. Sinclair has written a book called Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don't Have To, though it does not contain details of this latest research published in the scientific journal Aging.

The book makes a convincing argument for why it’s critical that we reframe how we think about ageing: there are ethical, social, economic, and ecological implications tied to our collective longevity.

The professor says humans are living much longer than ever. But not much better.

Image: sourced from Lifespanbook.com website.

"Over the past century we have gained additional years, but not additional life—not life worth living anyway", and he argues simple lifestyle changes like intermittent fasting, cold exposure, exercising with the right intensity, and eating less meat have been shown to help us live younger and healthier for longer.

Professor Sinclair has says there are 2 major types of information stored in the body: one is digital, one is analogue.

The digital information is our genome, which surprisingly lasts way longer than 80 years, but it's the analogue information - which he calls the epigenome - that is the cause of ageing.

The epigenome are the structures within the cell that allow some genes to be read while keeping others silent which is the problem.

He says this analogue information is very hard to preserve and is what causes ageing.

What do you think about ageing 'interventions' - do you try to live better to live longer?

The information on this page is general information and should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Do not use the information found on this page as a substitute for professional health care advice. Any information you find on this page or on external sites which are linked to on this page should be verified with your professional health care provider.

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