No matter how old you are, who hasn’t at some point had the Benjamin Button fantasy of winding back the clock on our personal aging process? Well, thanks to researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, such a dream may not stay a figment of our imagination for much longer (although sadly, our younger selves won’t be played by Brad Pitt).
In an experiment, Salk scientists were able to rejuvenate mice with premature aging disease progeria by engaging in a spot of cellular reprogramming. This involved converting cells into what are referred to as induced pluripotent stem cells, capable of indefinitely dividing and transforming into any cell type present in the body.
When the reprogrammed cells were examined, it was found that they exhibited a reversal of multiple hallmarks associated with aging. Unlike other studies which have used similar techniques, in this case, the reverse-aging cells maintained their skin-cell identities.
As a result of the work, the scientists report that the mice looked younger and had improved cardiovascular and other organ function. The researchers suggest that the discovery could also be used to help humans.
“The main goal in our lab is to improve human health by providing you with more healthy years,” Dr. Alejandro Ocampo, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “We would like people to reach 90 or 100, but to be healthy for the duration of that lifespan, and not to suffer from the symptoms of aging. However, we also understand that if we’re able to improve health, at some point lifespan will also be extended. In the experiments we did with mice, we saw an increase in average lifespan and a 30 percent increase in maximum lifespan.”
There is still plenty of work to be done, but this work certainly represents a potentially transformative advance — even if human trials remain hypothetical for now.
“There are aspects of the ways in which societies are run that would need to change [were this to become a reality],” Ocampo continued. “For instance, it could be that people’s working years would have to be extended. All of this will require major socioeconomic changes. But we are just scientists; the implications that this work could have are beyond our discussions.”
What is not beyond discussion are his thoughts on when human tests could conceivably be carried out. “I think we will see some of this work being applied in the next 10 years,” he noted. “I don’t know whether that will be [with the goal of] lifespan extension, but certainly to slow down some of the aging symptoms.”