Scientists have discovered a way to rejuvenate cells, which means the average life expectancy in the UK could leap from 81 to 108.
The groundbreaking new study could mean that doctors may be able to one day turn back the clock on age-related illnesses, as well as wrinkles, gray hair and body aches.
The fountain of youth may not be just be the stuff of legend.
Scientists from the Salk Institute in California say that the aging process may in fact be reversible.
The provocative claim comes from the findings of a new study, which discovered ‘embryonic state genes’ — stem cells created with embryonic properties from reprogrammed adult cells — that can reverse the tell-tale signs of old age.
In the lab, this novel type of gene therapy was tested on mice and human skin cells.
The human skin cells in petri dishes changed to look and behave young again, while the mice enjoyed a similar rejuvenating experience.
After six weeks of treatment, the animals looked younger, had straighter spines, better cardiovascular health, healed quicker when injured, and lived 30 percent longer.
But due to the complexity of ageing, these therapies may take up to 10 years to reach clinical trials.
“Ageing is a very obscure and not well understood process,” said Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte.
“When we compared a skin cell for instance to a stem cell, what we are doing is rejuvenating that cell.
“That skin cell was before a stem cell, that’s a process that we call cellular reprogramming, rejuvenating a cell back to its pristine state.
“Our study shows that ageing may not have to proceed in one single direction.
It has plasticity and with careful modulation, ageing might be reversed.”
The study provided insight both into the cellular drivers of ageing and possible new treatments to improve human health and longevity.
At the moment, age is the biggest risk factors for heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative disorders.
But halting or reversing ageing may lie in cellular reprogramming – a process in which the expression of four genes known as the Yamanaka factors allows scientists to convert any cell into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).
Like embryonic stem calls, iPSCs are capable of dividing indefinitely and becoming any cell type present in our body.
It is however, a long stretch from isolated skin cells in a laboratory to practical use on humans.
Nonetheless, the suggestion that it may be possible to reprogram cells to help people live nearly a third longer, and in better health, are tantalizing.
The study also adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests that the process of aging itself is not merely down to wear and tear over time.
Instead, the Salk Institute team suggest that the body has an internal ‘clock,’ which contributes to an organism’s decline.
Salk Institute scientist Izpisua Belmonte said: “We believe that this approach will not lead to immortality.”
However, Mr. Belmonte said the goal was to significantly increase ‘health span’, the number of years that someone remains healthy.
Currently, aging is associated with several debilitating diseases, including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
“There are probably still limits that we will face in terms of complete reversal of aging.
Our focus is not only extension of lifespan but most importantly health-span,” Mr. Belmonte said.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column]