Remember the Brad Pitt movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? Scientists might be able to reverse the process of aging, many new studies are suggesting this theory. Among them, two recent studies have come up with major findings. In this article, we shall discuss some of those studies and find out what the findings are. So maybe in near future we can say goodbye to anti-aging creams and therapies or treatment.
Science says now you can age backward: Here’s how
Study 1: Epigenetic Clock
Volunteers who were given a cocktail of drugs for a year actually “aged backwards”, losing an average of 2.5 years from their biological ages, according to the new study. The research showed that the marks on their genomes that represent their “epigenetic clock”, as well as their immune systems, actually improved despite the passing of time.
The scientists involved in the study were shocked by the results. “I’d expected to see slowing down of the clock, but not a reversal,” researcher Steve Horvath from the University of California, Los Angeles told Nature, which first reported the findings. “That felt kind of futuristic.” Scientists caution that the study was done with a very limited number of participants: only nine people took the drug cocktail, and there was no control group. But if it is confirmed by further research it could have huge impacts on healthcare, the treatment of disease and how people think about ageing. In the study, participants were given a growth hormone and two diabetes medications. Scientists then monitored the test subjects’ epigenetic clocks, to understand the effect on how they aged.
The epigenetic clock is measured by the body’s epigenome – a record of chemical changes to an organism’s DNA. As people age, chemical modifications or tags are added to people’s DNA, and those change throughout their lives, so by looking at those tags a person’s biological age can be measured. Researchers had actually intended to look at how the growth hormone would change the tissue in the thymus gland, which helps with the body’s immune functions and sits in the chest. It normally shrinks after puberty but they hoped to see whether it could be pushed to regrow, by giving participants the growth hormone.
It was only as a secondary consideration that researchers then checked how the drugs changed their epigenetic clocks. The study had finished when the analysis began. Professor Horvath then looked at four different measures of the epigenetic clock to understand the differing ages of each of the patients. And he found that every one of them had reversed significantly – so significantly that he is optimistic about the results, despite the limited number of participants.
Scientists now hope to test the same effects with more people, through a controlled study, and with different age groups, ethnicities and with women. The changes could still be seen in the blood of six participants who provided samples long after the study finished.
Study 2: Reversing HBOT
Scientists claim that they have successfully reversed the process of biological aging in a group of elderly adults. The team from Tel Aviv University (TAU) and the Shamir Medical Center in Israel explains that they used a form of oxygen therapy to reverse two key biological processes associated with aging in human cells: telomere length and senescent cells accumulation.
As the human body gets older, it experiences the shortening of telomeres – protective regions located at both ends of every chromosome – and an increase in old and malfunctioning cells in the body. “Aging can be characterized by the progressive loss of physiological integrity, resulting in impaired functions and susceptibility for diseases and death. This biological deterioration is considered a major risk factor for cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease among others. At the cellular level, there are two key hallmarks of the aging process: shortening of telomere length and cellular senescence,” say experts.
The findings indicate that the hyperbaric oxygen treatments (HBOT) reversed the aging process in two of these major aspects: the telomeres at the ends of the chromosomes grew longer instead of shorter, at a rate of 20%-38% for the different cell types; and the percentage of senescent cells in the overall cell population was reduced significantly, by 11%-37% depending on cell type. This is the equivalent to how the bodies were at a cellular level 25 years earlier, the scientists reported. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment.
“Today telomere shortening is considered the ‘holy grail’ of the biology of aging. Researchers around the world are trying to develop pharmacological and environmental interventions that enable telomere elongation. Our HBOT protocol was able to achieve this, proving that the aging process can be reversed at the basic cellular-molecular level,” writes Professor Shai Efrati from the Sackler School of Medicine and the Sagol School of Neuroscience at TAU. Professor Efrati led the study along with Dr Amir Hadanny, chief medical research officer of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at the Shamir Medical Center. The findings have been published in the journal Aging.
The clinical trial was conducted as part of a comprehensive Israeli research program that targets aging as a reversible condition. “For many years our team has been engaged in hyperbaric research and therapy – treatments based on protocols of exposure to high-pressure oxygen at various concentrations inside a pressure chamber. Our achievements over the years included the improvement of brain functions damaged by age, stroke or brain injury,” says Professor Efrati, who is the founder and director of the Sagol Center of Hyperbaric Medicine. He adds, “In the current study we wished to examine the impact of HBOT on healthy and independent aging adults, and to discover whether such treatments can slow down, stop or even reverse the normal aging process at the cellular level.”
The investigators exposed 35 healthy individuals aged 64 or over to a series of 60 hyperbaric sessions over 90 days. During the three-month study period, they sat in a pressurized chamber for 90 minutes, five days a week. Each participant provided blood samples before, during, and at the end of the treatments as well as some time after the series of treatments concluded. The authors then analyzed various immune cells in the blood and compared the results.
The results indicate that hyperbaric oxygen treatments in healthy aging adults can stop the aging of blood cells and reverse the aging process, the investigators argue. In the biological sense, the adults’ blood cells grow younger as the progress of the treatment, they explain.
“Until now, interventions such as lifestyle modifications and intense exercise were shown to have some inhibiting effect on telomere shortening. But in our study, only three months of HBOT were able to elongate telomeres at rates far beyond any currently available interventions or lifestyle modifications. With this pioneering study, we have opened a door for further research on the cellular impact of HBOT and its potential for reversing the aging process,” emphasizes Dr Hadanny.
But we wonder, is aging so bad? Of course not, grey hair means lots of experience and wisdom. Nothing is more beautiful if we all can learn to age gracefully and act accordingly. Isn’t it? What do you think?
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