In the fields of longevity and aging research, a research team has announced a breakthrough that may be one of the most significant in medical history. Harvard scientists have successfully reversed the aging process and show how they did it in a remarkable study published in the journal Nature.
Regenerating aged bodies
Utilizing a newly developed treatment pioneered by the researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the scientists at Harvard Medical School successfully repaired tissues damaged by aging and reversed the process. The key to their success was the ability to restore telomerase enzymes, a critical component of longevity.
The experiments on mice were so successful the researchers were just short of stunned. The success lays the foundation for eventual attainment of rejuvenation of organs and holds the promise of arresting the aging process in humans—perhaps even reversing human aging as well.
The discovery couldn’t have come at a better time with the leading edge of the Baby Boom generation reaching into old age. Successful enzymatic therapy could reduce the economic pressures building on such US health programs as the federal government’s Medicare and state Medicaid programs.
Significant long-range medical and economic impacts
It could play havoc with Social Security actuarial tables, however, thus adding to the building momentum to radically restructure the failing retirement program.
Such revolutionary anti-aging techniques would significantly change the technology, goals and economic hierarchy of the medical profession and health-related fields. Slowing or reversing aging would have a positive, cascading affect on many current health disorders including such maladies as heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer’s and dementia, perhaps even certain forms of age-related cancers.
The quality and length of life for the aged would dramatically increase.
Dramatic age reversal
Ronald DePinho, who led the study, told the UK Guardian that “What we saw in these animals was not a slowing down or stabilization of the aging process. We saw a dramatic reversal—and that was unexpected.This could lead to strategies that enhance the regenerative potential of organs as individuals age and so increase their quality of life. Whether it serves to increase longevity is a question we are not yet in a position to answer.”
While many factors seem to contribute to aging in animals, including exposure to UV light, diet, genetics and free radicals that cause oxidation of the cells, telomeres have been discovered to play a major role in the aging process and the breakdown of DNA replication that leads to the condition called aging.
The Harvard researchers focused their effort on repairing the telomeres. Like the leader that precedes a motion picture film, telomeres are attached as protective strips at the ends of chromosomes. When cells divide and the DNA is replicated the telomere leaders are shortened. The shortening is a malfunction of the process and corrected may lead to life extension, even a reversal of age.
The Harvard study worked with mice that have similar telomeres to humans. The animals were prematurely aged by genetically manipulating them to breed mice with severely shortened telomeres therefore producing prematurely aged mice that exhibited all the standard markers of old age and aging diseases.
After receiving injections formulated to resurrect the depleted enzyme, the damage was reversed and so was the aging.
“These were severely aged animals, but after a month of treatment they showed a substantial restoration, including the growth of new neurons in their brains,” DePinho explained to the Guardian.
Concern over cancer
After the mice had regressed in age, they were carefully monitored for signs of side effects that might emerge from the intervention therapy. The researchers were especially concerned about the appearance of tumors or malignant cells.
None appeared. The mice were healthy; the only measurable effect was they were younger after the treatments.
Other researchers hailed the success, although some, like Tom Kirkwood, director of the Institute for Aging and Health at Newcastle University, expressed concern that past research into reactivization of telomeres has led to the creation of cancerous cells.
Future research is planned to determine if the techniques and new therapy can be applied to aged human organs.
“Harvard scientists reverse the ageing process in mice – now for humans,” Guardian
“Telomerase reactivation reverses tissue degeneration in aged telomerase-deficient mice,” Nature
“Linking functional decline of telomeres, mitochondria and stem cells during ageing,” Nature