Recently, scientists at the Salk Institute have found a new way to slow down and even reverse signs of aging. The researchers prompted cellular rejuvenation through cellular reprogramming that activates the expressions of four genes known as the Yamanaka factors. This process converts cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), — which behave like stem cells, capable of becoming any cell type and can divide indefinitely.
"Our study shows that aging may not have to proceed in one single direction," says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory "It has plasticity and, with careful modulation, aging might be reversed."
Yet, inducing cells to divide indefinitely can definitely have it's risk. Conditions like cancer are caused by cells abnormally reproducing and such effects could even cause organs to fail. Even if the cells in the petri dish did not show any negative signs, researchers could not be sure that similar results would be derived from an entire organism.
"What we and other stem-cell labs have observed is that when you induce cellular reprogramming, cells look younger," says Alejandro Ocampo, "The next question was whether we could induce this rejuvenation process in a live animal."
To do this the researchers looked at a very particular disease, Progeria. Progeria is an extremely rare genetic disorder in which symptoms resembling aspects of aging are manifested at a very early age. In essence, you age faster than normal. It also a condition found in not only humans but also mice.
When the team induced the Yamanaka factors for a short duration on the mice with progeria the results were striking! Compared to the untreated mice, the treated mice not only looked younger but their their cardiovascular and other organ function improved. Not only that but they were living 30 percent longer! Also not even one developed any sign of cancer.
Next the researchers wanted to see what would happen now when they induced the Yamanaka factors on a cyclic basis on normal mice. The results showed improvement in the regeneration of the pancreas and muscles. Even when they were injured the treatment spurred quicker healing in those areas. The mice also showed a clear improvement in the quality of life by the cellular reprogramming.
"Obviously, mice are not humans and we know it will be much more complex to rejuvenate a person," says Izpisua Belmonte. "But this study shows that aging is a very dynamic and plastic process, and therefore will be more amenable to therapeutic interventions than what we previously thought."
The team published their research four days ago in the journal Cell. Yet if your hoping that these treatments will soon be found at your nearest pharmacy, medical center, or health spa, I wouldn't hold your breath. It can be up to ten years before these therapies even reach the clinical trial phase. Yet this still considered by many as one of the most promising approaches to achieve age rejuvenation in humans thus far.