Eventually, everybody dies.
Aging and its consequences have always been something people wanted to get rid of — which is why many studies have been carried out on this front. And developing technologies have begun to eliminate physical changes brought about by aging. But there’s still no permanent fix to the problem of aging.
Anti-aging studies are continuing, and in March, researchers safely reversed signs of aging in middle-aged mice. They even executed fecal transplants, revealing that transplanting waste from young to old mice reversed some of the hallmarks of aging.
Now, molecular biologist David Sinclair and his team from Harvard Medical School reversed aging in mice by employing proteins that can turn an adult cell into a stem cell, according to CNN. In their first breakthrough, published in late 2020, the team restored the damaged retinas of old mice and improved their vision newborn levels.
Someday, death might be an opt-in feature. Although it’s still a long, long way away.
Reverse aging: A permanent reset of the biological clock
“It’s a permanent reset, as far as we can tell, and we think it may be a universal process that could be applied across the body to reset our age,” Sinclair said in the CNN report. “If we reverse aging, these diseases should not happen. We have the technology today to be able to go into your hundreds without worrying about getting cancer in your 70s, heart disease in your 80s and Alzheimer’s in your 90s.”
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Modern medicine treats illness, but it ignores the fundamental cause, “which for most diseases is aging itself,” according to Sinclair. “We know that reversing the age of an organ, such as the brain in a rat, eliminates aging illnesses.”
There is no longer any dementia; memory returns.
A safer alternative
The team used two sibling mice in their experiments and genetically modified one of them to age faster. The experimental thesis was: If that could be done, could the reverse be accomplished as well?
Japanese biomedical researcher Shinya Yamanaka previously led a study in this field and accomplished reprogramming human adult skin cells to behave like embryonic or pluripotent stem cells. His “induced pluripotent stem cells,” later became known as “Yamanaka factors.” The problem with this method, however, was that adult cells lose their identity when they are switched back to stem cells.
Another study published in 2016 by researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, erased the signs of aging in mice without erasing the identity of cells. But it turned out that the mice used in the research developed cancerous tumors under certain conditions.
And nobody wants cancer.
Reverse-aging mouse brains and muscles
Therefore, the Sinclair lab geneticists have looked for a safer alternative. Enter Yuancheng Lu, a post-doctoral fellow who picked three of the four Yamanaka factors and genetically added them to a harmless virus. The virus was created to send Yamanaka factors to damaged retinal ganglion cells in the rear of an elderly mouse’s eye. The pluripotent genes were turned on by giving the mouse an antibiotic after injecting the virus into the eye.
“The antibiotic is just a tool. It could be any chemical really, just a way to be sure the three genes are switched on,” Sinclair said in the CNN report. “Normally they are only on in very young developing embryos and then turn off as we age.”
The final results clearly show that damaged neurons in the eyes of mice injected with the three cells miraculously recovered — even sprouting new axons, or extensions from the eye to the brain. Sinclair stated that his team has reversed aging in mice muscles and brains since the initial study, and now they’re working on regenerating the entire body of a mouse.
Time will tell what comes next, as the scientists work to see if these results will also work on human bodies. But it’s okay to feel encouraged, and rekindle childhood dreams of extending your finite life — so long as your expectations are and remain realistic.