Could The Curious Case of Benjamin Button be a Reality?

*I hope you’ve all enjoyed the festive period!!*

Yup, you read that correctly. I hope you have enjoyed the festive period but also, the title.

Ageing is an inevitable consequence of, well, living (cue dark music). Grey hairs, wrinkles, aching joints and the like are things we expect to experience as we get older. I’m sure most people would love if you could halt or slow down these effects, which has raised a particular question that keeps cropping up. Could the ageing process be reversed? Well, maybe. The title and description are a teeny bit misleading (CLICK BAIT). See, scientists have developed a new form of gene therapy that has shown a rejuvenating effect, but in mice.

After just six weeks of treatment, it was found that the mice had better cardiovascular health, straighter spines, quicker healing abilities (a la Logan), a 30% longer lifespan and looked younger! The image below puts it into perspective a little more.

Muscle tissue from an aged mouse (left) and muscle tissue from an aged mouse that has been subject to the therapy (right) Credit: Salk Institute

Obviously (or not so obviously as I’ve only divulged a smidgen of information), human trials are a fair distance away. The scientists who developed this therapy estimate it will take around a decade for them to optimise it for human trials.

Now, evil geniuses around the world, this isn’t a step towards immortality nor can it eliminate ageing altogether so we can experience a prolonged youth. No, these findings add to the idea that age is driven by an internal genetic clock that determines when we, for lack of a better term, pop our clogs. If we can somehow slow the tick of our clocks then the result will be a longer life expectancy.

Now, I do have to delve into the science of it so please bear with me. Trying to “rewind” cells has been attempted before, turning skin cells back into powerful stem cells, similar to those in embryos. These cells are known as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, and they have the ability to multiply and become any cell in the body. Obviously, this raises an issue, as if you rewind the cells back to their embryonic state, they lose their specific functionality.

The treatment therefore aimed to partially rewind the cells, so that age-wise they are younger but they retain their specific function. The four genes that are used to turn skin cells into iPS cells were intermittently switched on in the mice, activated when they were exposed to a chemical in their drinking water.

The treatment was tested on mice with progeria, a genetic disorder linked to accelerated ageing,  organ dysfunction, DNA damage and a shortened lifespan. Six weeks post-treatment, skin and muscle tone improved, they lived 30% longer, DNA damage was reduced and mitochondrial function improved. Crucially, as is important with many of these treatments, the risk of cancer did not increase.

Right, thanks for listening to the science. So, what to take from this? Science is incredible. We’re living in an age where Benjamin Button-like events could be a reality (the ageing part, not the other stuff). Never be surprised when new developments occur in the scientific world. Who knows what’s next? Well, whatever is next, I will probably be amazed.

Brad Pitt yo, Brad Pitt. Bye.

Could it be possible to reverse the effects of ageing? Credit: Unique Style Platform

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