Can the effects of aging actually be reversed?
No matter what your skin cream or beauty therapist may tell you, your wrinkles are not disappearing and your skin cells are not being rejuvenated to their pre-teen glory.
The body is made up of over 200 different types of cells, but before they differentiated into fat, heart blood, liver, immune cells and more, they were all the same ‘stem cells, that could become anything.
In 2006, a scientist called Shinya Yamanaka (who was later awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine) discovered four genes that could transform cells back to their undifferentiated ‘stem’ state. Could this lead to us reversing the natural process of aging? Unfortunately there’s a major catch – Since the cells can then grow into anything, this often results in cancer. It can also cause the cells to fail in their function (such as heart cells keeping your ticker ticking).
However, we are starting to see some progress. A recent article by researchers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, show how they were able to induce cells to behave as younger cells with increased lifespan and resilience. With time, this could lead to genetic therapies to control the aging process
The manuscript of life
One of the professors, Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, draws a comparison between aging and writing a manuscript: “Imagine writing a manuscript. At the end of your life, if you pass the manuscript to many people, there will be many marks, a lot of addition. What we’re doing here … is eliminating some of these marks.”
What Belmont means is that his lab has come up with a workaround to some of the negatives associated with Yamanaka’s research, reasoning that if you could turn the Yamanaka factors on and off, you could stop the process before the cells regressed all the way back to stem-cell state. They tried this in lab mice by turning the genes on for two days, then off for five. They found that the mice showed greater resistance hallmarks of aging such as muscle injury and metabolic disease.
Science may not be able to reverse the effects of aging just yet, but hopefully we’ll live long enough to see it happen… and live even longer with rejuvenated cells!