The Guardian recently published an article featuring a new form of gene therapy capable of reprogramming mice to live 30% longer. From better vascular health to healing quicker when injured, researchers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California have been able to reverse the aging process in lab mice.
According to head researcher Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, “This is the first time that someone has shown that reprogramming in an animal can provide a beneficial effect in terms of health and extend their lifespan.” After six weeks of treatment, which consisted of resetting the aging clock with induced pluripotent (iPS) cells, the mice were noticeably younger and their spinal columns realigned.
Impressed with the study, Wolf Reik, professor of epigenetics at the Babraham Institute, Cambridge said, “These so-called iPS cells have the ability to multiply and turn into any cell type in the body and are already being tested in trials designed to provide “spare parts” for patients.” By exposing the lab mice to a chemical in their drinking water, the lab mice were engineered using the same four genes that turn skin cells into iPS cells.
The results of the study were rather groundbreaking. By testing mice with a genetic disorder called Progeria – an accelerated aging condition that drastically reduces lifespan – researchers discovered that “aging is partially – perhaps mostly – driven by an internal genetic clock that actively causes our body a state of decline.” This challenges the belief that aging, in its simplest form, is the result of physical wear and tear.
With a focus not only on the extension of life but most importantly health-span, Izpisua Belmonte and her Salk team found a way to successfully rewind cells without turning them back to stem cells – which are notorious for proliferating uncontrollably.
So when can this anti-aging research be tested in humans? With genetic manipulation of human embryos illegal, the Salk team is confident that these same genes could be targeted with drugs. “These chemicals could be administered in creams or injections to rejuvenate skin, muscles, or bones,” said Izpisua Belmonte.