New Age-Reversal Method Can Help You Look 30 Years Younger

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Scientists rejuvenated donor skin cells by 30 years, without the cells losing their function, using a new age-reversal method

Ageing is a natural part of life; however, this gradual process can not only give one wrinkles but also decrease cellular function. Therefore, humans have been on the search for ways to reverse ageing for years. While most people are mostly concerned with looking younger, scientists are more concerned with cellular ageing and developing treatments for age-related diseases. In a major breakthrough, researchers at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge developed a new age-reversal method that can take 30 years off you. Although the research is still in its early stages, scientists believe it’s a huge step in regenerative medicine. The complete detail of the research is available in the journal eLife.

The long-term aim is to extend the human health span, rather than the lifespan, so that people can get older in a healthier way.

Professor Wolf Reik, lead researcher

Regenerative medicine involves restoring or replacing cells damaged due to disease, ageing, or injury. This can take place on multiple levels: molecular, cellular, or tissue. Moreover, there are different types of regenerative medicine; tissue engineering involves biomaterials; another type creates artificial donor organs and medical devices; cellular therapies focus on using adult stem cells.

Stem cells are undifferentiated human cells with the ability to form any cell in the body. Compared to adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells can differentiate into any cell type. However, the use of embryonic stem cells is highly controversial as many believe it destroys a potential life as it is derived from a fertilized egg. Therefore, researchers have switched their interest to adult stem cells. Using genetic reprogramming, scientists can now turn adult cells into ‘induced’ stem cells that can differentiate into any specific type of human cell.

What are Yamanaka Factors?

In 2007, Japanese researcher Professor Shinya Yamanaka became the first scientist to turn adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells. As part of the experiment, Professor Yamanaka exposed adult fibroblasts to a chemical cocktail, later called the Yamanaka factors, for 50 days. It contained a group of four protein transcription factors that genetically reprogrammed these cells. Thus, resulting in induced stem cells.

Although the experiment did create stem cells, it also had a few drawbacks. Not only did the new cells lose their cell identity and functioning but also researchers could not reprogram the cells into various cell types. Therefore, the team at Cambridge tweaked Professor Yamanaka’s technique a little.

Our understanding of ageing on a molecular level has progressed over the last decade, giving rise to techniques that allow researchers to measure age-related biological changes in human cells.

Dr Diljeet Gill, study researcher

However, stem cells are not the only form of age-reversal method in the works at the moment. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has also demonstrated the ability to reverse the ageing process in adult cells. As the name implies, HBOT consists of breathing 100% oxygen at high pressure (2-3 times higher than normal). It is mostly used to treat respiratory diseases, non-healing wounds, and even gangrenes. However, researchers hypothesize that HBOT can potentially reverse ageing through its effects on telomere length. Typically, telomeres are located at the end of chromosomes and shorten during each cell replication cycle. Eventually, they shorten to such a length that replication is no longer possible, and the cell dies.

According to research, HBOT not only increased the length of telomeres among participants but also decreased their population of senescent cells. Although the study included small sample size, the results demonstrate a possible age-reversal method in humans.

How Does the Age-Reversal Method Work?

The new method is based on Professor Shinya Yamanaka’s IPS technique. However, instead of 50 days, the team exposed human skin cells to the Yamanaka factors for just 13 days. Called ‘maturation phase transient reprograming’, the method prevented cells from completely regressing to stem cells. Rather, the cells only reverted till the maturation phase. Although the cells did demonstrate a loss of identity, reprogramming helped them regain their functioning.

With our approach, cells temporarily lose their identity as they enter the maturation phase but, importantly, reacquire their initial somatic fate when the reprogramming factors are withdrawn.

study authors

To confirm their findings, the team used skin cells from donors aged 38, 53, and 53. Next, they created an artificial wound in the cell layer within the petri dish. Not only did the fibroblasts age back 30 years, but also produced more collagen than the control cells that had not undergone reprogramming. Moreover, these fibroblasts performed faster at wound healing.

According to lead researcher Professor Wolf Reik, the age-reversal method can likely help speed up wound healing in older people. The team of researchers further plan to test the technology for other tissues such as blood cells, liver, and muscles. However, it is important to note that the current method carries with it some risks. The Yamanaka factors can increase the risk of cancers through interaction with certain genes. However, Professor Reik is confident that a safer alternative is on the horizon.


eLife 2022;11:e71624 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.71624


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