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Turning back time

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For decades, scientists have been working overtime to better understand the human body and the mechanics of ageing. Website gives a rundown of 12 exciting innovations that can potentially stop time in its tracks, many of which we have featured in these pages. Here’s a quick recap of them:

01 REPROGRAM TO REVIVE In 2016, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California successfully reprogrammed the cells of ageing mice using induced pluripotent (capable of giving rise to several different cell types) stem cells generated from adult cells. Mice whose cells were reprogrammed lived 30 per cent longer. This study holds great promise for the use of stem cells to help anti-ageing efforts in humans.

02 BACTERIA BOON A rare bacterium known as rapamycin is being touted as the key to reversing the ageing process. A common element in transplant medicine, rapamycin was used in experiments on flies, mice and worms to test the possibility of postponing death. More recently, it has been tested on dogs. Companies are now fighting tooth and nail to get the pill approved and marketed for human use.

03 TARGET, ATTACK, REPAIR Researchers at CalTech and University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) discovered that the build up of mutant mtDNA over time leads to cell ageing and death. (Cells typically contain two types of DNA found in the mitochondria: normal mtDNA and mutant mtDNA.) They then set out to see whether autophagy, the process wherein cells devour themselves, can be used to attack mutant mtDNA and prevent ageing. Initial testing on fruit flies has showed a distinct reduction of mutant mtDNA in their muscle cells. Will a similar technique work on humans? Time will tell.

04 SPLICE TO SURVIVE Building on the discovery that splicing factors—that enable cells to divide, preventing cell ageing and death—become indolent with age, researchers at the University of Exeter and University of Brighton have found that introducing ‘reversalogues’ can reactivate splicing factors in older cells. (Reversalogues are similar to the chemical resveratrol, which is found in red wine.) This would not only mean longer life but reduced signs of ageing and better health.

05 A DOG’S LIFE A covert start-up in Harvard University, Rejuvenate Bio has been experimenting to develop a technology to reverse ageing in dogs. Their focus is to modify certain genes as a means to attack and eliminate risk of serious conditions like heart and kidney diseases. For now, the company is focusing on cocker spaniels and Doberman pinschers, which have short lifespans, and hopes to eventually get FDA approval for human trials.

06 COMBINE AND CONQUER A recent study by the US National Institute of Ageing found that mixing and injecting pre-existing drugs can extend natural life and delay age-related health conditions. The study treated mice with a mix of dasatinib, a drug for leukaemia, and quercetin, which is naturally present in fruits and vegetables. The results showed that naturally ageing mice lived 36 per cent longer after the treatment. Now, they are working to achieve similar results in humans.

07 SLOWING DOWN SENESCENCE A new study by researchers at Marshall University Joan C Edwards School of Medicine in the US concluded that something called the ‘Na/K-ATPase oxidant amplification loop’ (NAKL), which directly affects the ageing process, can be used as a target for anti-ageing interventions. Their theory was first tested on mice, who were treated with pNaKtide, a synthetic peptide. As similar results were recorded in human trials, the researchers are certain that such interventions will bear fruit.

08 ANTI-WRINKLE VIRUSES Like our skin, the cells in our body also wrinkle with age. Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine discovered that many ailments like fatty liver disease could be caused by the wrinkling of cell nuclei. To solve this problem, they have suggested that viruses could be modified and used to smoothen the nuclear membrane, which could reverse the effects of ageing and protect against illnesses.

09 POPPING A PILL What if reversal of ageing was as simple as popping a pill? Researchers from the Pail F Glenn Centre for the Biology of Ageing at Harvard Medical School say it can happen! Their conclusions are based on a previous study that showed that nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+)—a molecule found in cells—could reverse the signs of ageing in mice. In the next leg of the study, human trials were conducted with promising results.

10 IT’S IN THE BLOOD A study published in journal Cell Reports suggests that the blood of young people might be helpful in combating ageing. Ghoulish though it may sound, when researchers infused the blood of young mice into older mice, it triggered neuron and stem cell production and led to reversal of ageing on their cognitive function. Clinical trials have now started.

11 BRAIN ON A HIGH Last May, researchers from the University of Bonn and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem said they had successfully reversed the biological state of the brain in mice aged 12 months and 18 months by treating them with small and controlled doses of THC. (THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is one of at least 113 cannabinoids identified in cannabis.) They believe non-intoxicating THC treatments could enable older humans to regain youthful levels of cognitive function.

12 DELETE-ALT-CONTROL After 10 years of research, scientists at the Buck Institute for Research on Ageing in California and the University of Washington disclosed that they were able to identify and delete genes that can prolong life—238 cells were identified and upon removal resulted in a 60 per cent increase in the lifespan of yeast. Many of the identified genes are also present in mammals; it may take them significantly longer to replicate these findings in humans though.

Photo: iStock
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
September 2018