Reversing Aging: Scientists Make Old Human Cells Look And Act Younger in Breakthrough Discovery

A 90 year old Pensioners clasps her hands together during a group exercise in a day care centre on April 4, 2006 in London England. Daniel Berehulak/Getty Image

A groundbreaking discovery in cellular biology could help humans age without as much deterioration in their bodies. A research team experimenting on a class of genes called "splicing factors" was able to take older human cells and physically rejuvenate them, turning back the clock to make them appear and behave young again.

"When I saw some of the cells in the culture dish rejuvenating I couldn't believe it. These old cells were looking like young cells. It was like magic," Eva Latorre, the research associate at the University of Exeter who conducted the experiments, told Medical Xpress. "I repeated the experiments several times and in each case the cells rejuvenated. I am very excited by the implications and potential for this research."

When human cells grow old, they become inactive. The splicing factors that "switch off" in old age can actually be switched back on by applying chemical compounds called reversatrol analogues. Within just a few hours of the application, the splicing factors started to rejuvenate, dividing themselves the way young cells do. Their telomeres, cap-like features on chromosomes which grow shorter and shorter as we age, became long again. A paper detailing the research was published in the journal BMC Cell Biology.

"This is a first step in trying to make people live normal lifespans, but with health for their entire life," lead author Lorna Harries, professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Exeter, told Medical Xpress. "Our data suggests that using chemicals to switch back on the major class of genes that are switched off as we age might provide a means to restore function to old cells."

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Splicing factors help your genes operate smoothly, making sure that instructions like when to grow new blood vessels get to where they need to go. Over the course of the aging process, they become less efficient, and eventually break down entirely, leaving our bodies with less and less ability to regenerate.

"At a time when our capacity to translate new knowledge about the mechanisms of ageing into medicines and lifestyle advice is limited only by a chronic shortage of funds, older people are ill-served by self-indulgent science fiction," Professor Richard Faragher of the University of Brighton told Medical Xpress. "They need practical action to restore their health and they need it yesterday ... Our discovery of cell rejuvenation using these simple compounds shows the enormous potential of ageing research to improve the lives of older people."

Reversatrol analogues, meanwhile, come from a substance common to red wine, dark chocolate, red grapes and blueberries. So while we wait for the arrival of therapies based on this research to help us all stay young, we can at least have a little more of those.