Aging is an inevitability. If you survive long enough, you will get old. Anyone who lived through this can explain the long list of changes. And I’m told it doesn’t end well. So what if we could freeze the aging process? What if it were possible to actually reverse the affects of aging and grow younger as time passes?
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This is, of course, a very powerful myth. For centuries, powerful people have put their best and brightest minds on finding the fountain of youth. So far it has remained allusive. What if it weren’t a fountain so much as a pill you could take? That’s what a team of scientists are working on now, and they’re making serious breakthroughs.
After six weeks of a new gene therapy, mice are looking younger. Their hearts are healthier. Their bones are stronger, and their spines are straighter. They even recover more quickly from injuries. After just six weeks of the therapy, the mice are living 30% longer.
The Guardian has put together a profile of the team. Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte (center), from the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, says: “Our study shows that ageing may not have to proceed in one single direction. With careful modulation, ageing might be reversed.”
How long will it be before the therapy is ready for human trials? The team at Salk estimate that it will be at least a decade.
The crux of the new research is a new theory that aging isn’t the physical breakdown of our organs and bodily systems, but a process driven by our genetics. In essence, we are per-programmed to time-out. Change that programing, as they’ve done with the mice, and aging stops.
“We believe that this approach will not lead to immortality,” said Belmonte. “There are probably still limits that we will face in terms of complete reversal of ageing. Our focus is not only extension of lifespan but most importantly health-span.”
This is an image of the evidence. The left hand photo (from the Salk Institute’s findings) is a control. The image on the right is of the same tissue from a mouse that has received the therapy.
“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,” said Belmonte.
Some of the researchers involved believe that this treatment can return cells to their embryonic state. The course of aging within the cell can be reversed so that they return to being stem cells. The goal is to find the careful balance that is sustainable.