Scientists have successfully reversed the effects of ageing in mice with the potential for treatments that may soon be able to slow or even reverse the ageing process.
Late last year, a team of scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston published a Nature paper in which they detailed the reversing of the ageing process in mice.
They targeted the chromosomes that reside within the nuclei of all cells, and specifically telomeres, caps at the tips of chromosomes. The telomeres protect the chromosomes from damage, but also shorten with age, until the cells are no longer able to replicate.
Professor Ronald DePinho and colleagues manipulated the enzyme that regulates these tips – known as telomerase – and witnessed dramatic results. Mice engineered to lack the enzyme aged prematurely, but when the enzyme was replaced, the mice appeared to rewind the clock.
“What we were expecting was a slowing or stabilisation of the ageing process,” he told the BBC. “Instead we witnessed a dramatic reversal in the signs and symptoms of ageing.”
“These animals had their brains increase in size, they improved their cognition, their coat-hair was restored to a healthy sheen and their fertility was also restored.”
However, applying such principles to humans could be an altogether bigger challenge. Telomerase has been linked with cancer, and there are likely to be many other mechanisms involved in ageing.
Many believe mitochondria may play a bigger role – genetic material contained within the cell but outside the nucleus. Mitochondria are the “power houses” of cells, but have also been seen to generate harmful chemicals linked with ageing. But even though a comprehensive picture of how we age is still to be constructed, there are scientists who are already testing anti-ageing treatments on humans.
Main photo by Charlotte Astrid