Reverse aging is something people have longed hoped to see become a reality in their lifetime. While the perfection of the process is still a long way from reality, in a recent experiment, the reversal of aging in human cells was successful and could help provide the basis for future anti-degeneration drugs.
Aging is often seen as a rising sign of the body’s decline in functionality and ability, but it is also linked to many diseases that humans suffer from, such as cancer, diabetes, and dementia. There can be numerous reasons as to why cells and tissues suddenly stop functioning, but right now the focus in the biology of aging is the accumulation of “senescent” cells in the tissues and organs.
Senescent cells are old deteriorated cells that do not function normally but affect the cells functioning around them. The removal of old, dysfunctional cells has been shown to improve the features of aging in animals, like in the delayed onset of cataracts.
There still is no clear indication as to why cells become senescent with age progression, but damage to DNA, exposure to inflammation and damage to protective molecules found at the end of the chromosomes (the telomeres) are all possible causes.
Recently, people have also suggested that one cause for senescence may be the loss of ability to turn genes on and off at the right time and in the right place.
One Gene, Many Messages
As we age, one of the abilities we lose control of is how our genes are regulated. Each cell in the body contains the necessary information needed for life, but not all genes are switched on in all tissues or under all conditions. This is one of the reasons why a heart cell is different from a kidney cell, despite coming from the same genes.
When a gene is stimulated by signals from inside or outside the cell, it creates a molecular message called RNA that contains all the information needed to make whatever the gene produces. We now know that 95 percent of our genes can make several different types of messages, depending on the needs of the cell.
The best way to approach this it by visualizing each gene as a recipe. You can bake either a vanilla sponge or chocolate cake depending on whether you incorporate chocolate. Our genes work like this. The decision as to which type of message is produced at any given time is made by a group of about 300 proteins called “splicing factors”.
As you age, the amount of splicing factors your proteins can make declines, which means that aged cells are less able to switch genes on and off to respond to changes in their environment. The levels of these regulators cause for a decline in blood samples from elderly humans and also in isolated human senescent cells.
Rejuvenating Old Cells
There have been several ideas considered as to how to turn the splicing factors back on. In recent studies, it was shown that when treating old cells with a chemical that releases small amounts of hydrogen sulfide, there was an increase in splicing factor levels, which also helped rejuvenate old human cells.
Hydrogen sulfide is a molecule that is naturally found in our bodies and has been shown to improve several age-related diseases in animals. But if present in large quantities, it can be toxic.
Using “molecular postcode”, hydrogen sulfide was able to be delivered to the molecule directly to the mitochondria, the structures that produce energy in cells, where it is unlikely that tiny doses will cause side effects.Related: Best Kept Anti-Aging Secrets
There is high hope that by using molecular postcode, scientists will be able to remove senescent cells living in people, allowing them to target various age-related diseases at once.