2017 was a very exciting year in the world of science. Dozens of major breakthroughs occurred for a variety of diseases and conditions. This year on the blog, we have explored many pioneering, new studies including promising research focused on HIV/AIDS, paralysis, autism, stroke victims, burn victims, and even the flu.
However, the latest scientific study to appear on headlines everywhere could have an impact on each and every one of our lives. And it could change the world as we know it. It is perhaps one of the most exciting breakthroughs of 2017. And it has to do with a process that is nearly synonymous with life itself: aging.
This Research on Aging is “Like Magic”
This study even had one of the scientists conducting the experiment completely shocked:
“When I saw some of the cells in the culture dish rejuvenating I couldn’t believe it. These old cells were looking like young cells. It was like magic,” Eva Latorre, Research Associate at the University of Exeter who helped conduct this exciting, new experiment, explained.
This study, funded by Dunhill Medical Trust, was not necessarily aimed at extending lifespan, but rather extending “healthspan” or the length of our lives that we spend in a healthy condition. This breakthrough could, in theory, help humans age with less deterioration in their bodies.
Professor Lorna Haines at University of Exeter led this experiment in cellular biology. Her team discovered a groundbreaking way of rejuvenating inactive senescent cells. This happens naturally when we grow old—our human cells become inactive. However, within hours of the study’s treatment, the older cells started to divide and produce longer telomeres, which are the “caps” on the chromosomes that shorten as we age.
Turning Back Time with Splicing Factors
So, what was the treatment? The research team used same chemical found in red wine, dark chocolate, red grapes and blueberries: reversatrol analogues. When this chemical was applied to the human cells in culture they caused splicing factors, which are progressively switched off as we age. However, they began to switch back on and the formerly older cells looked and behaved like young cells.
These splicing factors are a crucial part of our genes. They ensure that genes perform their full extent of functions. In fact, a single gene can deliver multiple messages to our bodies to perform a function such as whether or not to grow new blood vessels. Our splicing factors that exist within our genes act as the decision maker about which message to deliver. So, when we age and our splicing factors work less dependably or not at all, our cells struggle to react to challenges in their environment accordingly.
This study was conducted on senescent cells, which are cells that are found in the organs of most older people. Senescent cells naturally have fewer splicing factors than other cells.
The leader of study explained the significance of this study: “This is a first step in trying to make people live normal lifespans, but with health for their entire life. Our data suggests that using chemicals to switch back on the major class of genes that are switched off as we age might provide a means to restore function to old cells.”
The Possible Impacts of Age Reversal
The research has a vast potential of future possible therapies. By the age of 85, most people have experienced some type of chronic illness. And the older people get, the more prone they are to heart disease, cancer, and stroke.
The consequences of aging are well known. However, the process of aging is still somewhat of a mystery to scientists. Until recently, aging was widely regarded as a process that could not be manipulated or treated. However, this study indicates that aging may be more plastic than we once thought.
“This demonstrates that when you treat old cells with molecules that restore the levels of the splicing factors, the cells regain some features of youth. They are able to grow, and their telomeres — the caps on the ends of the chromosomes that shorten as we age — are now longer, as they are in young cells. Far more research is needed now to establish the true potential for these sort of approaches to address the degenerative effects of ageing,” Professor Harries said.
And more research is coming. Several new studies are in the works to build off of this riveting breakthrough. Even Professor Harries was able to give a look into the upcoming research: “We are now trying to see if we can find out how the changes in splicing factor levels [cause] cell rescue. We have more papers in preparation on this so watch this space!”
However, in the meantime, many scientists and medical professionals are hopeful that this could have a major impact on the suffering caused by the declining function of our splicing factors. Professor Richard Faragher of the University of Brighton has urged the importance of this research:
“At a time when our capacity to translate new knowledge about the mechanisms of ageing into medicines and lifestyle advice is limited only by a chronic shortage of funds, older people are ill-served by self-indulgent science fiction. They need practical action to restore their health and they need it yesterday,” he said.
He added, “our discovery of cell rejuvenation using these simple compounds shows the enormous potential of ageing research to improve the lives of older people.”
What does this mean for those of us trying to ward off the negative affects of aging? Perhaps we should all run to the supermarket and buy up all of the red wine, dark chocolate, red grapes and blueberries we can find and hope for the best!
Research in this field is developing rapidly and we will continue to follow as it unfolds. As for now, happy holidays everybody! Have a wonderful New Year!