- Pallap Ghosh
- Science Reporter, BBC News
Researchers have managed to regenerate the skin cells of a 53-year-old woman in parallel with the skin cells of a 23-year-old woman.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge in the UK believe it can do the same in other tissues in the body.
The ultimate goal is to develop treatment for age-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and neurological disorders.
The technology is based on the techniques used to create Dolly, a sheep that was cloned 25 years ago.
Professor Wolf Reich, who led the team from the Papraham Institute in Cambridge, told the BBC he hoped the technique could be used to keep people healthy as they age.
“We dream about things like this. Many common diseases get worse with age, and the intention to help people in this way is very exciting,” he said.
However, Professor Reich stressed that the work published in eLife magazine was in its infancy.
He said he had to overcome many scientific problems before leaving his lab and entering the clinic. But he said showing for the first time the possibility of cellular rejuvenation was an important step.
Follow in the footsteps of “Dolly”
The technique originated in the 1990s when researchers at the Roslin Institute outside Edinburgh developed a method of embryonicization of an adult mammalian gland cell derived from sheep.
This led to the creation of cloned sheep Dolly.
The goal of the Roslin team is not to create clones of sheep or humans, but to use the technique to create human embryonic stem cells.
They believed that these could be transformed into specific tissues, such as muscle, cartilage, and nerve cells, and replace worn-out body parts.
The Dolly technique was simplified in 2006 by Professor Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University.
The new method, called IPS, involves the addition of chemicals to adult cells for about 50 days.
The result was genetic mutations that transformed adult cells into stem cells.
In both Dolly and IPS techniques, the generated stem cells have to grow back into the cells and tissues the patient needs.
This has been proven difficult, and despite decades of effort, the use of stem cells to treat disease is currently very limited.
Professor Reich’s team applied the IPS technique to 53-year-old skin cells. But the chemical bath was reduced from 50 days to 12 days.
The cells did not turn into embryonic stem cells, but Dr. Tilkeet Gill was surprised to find that they were as refreshed as a 23-year-old.
“I remember the day I got the results. I could not believe some cells were 30 years younger than they should be. It was a very exciting day!”
This technique cannot be transferred to the clinic immediately because the IPS system increases the risk of cancers.
But now that it is known that it is possible to regenerate cells, Professor Reich hopes his team can find a safer alternative.
“The long-term goal is to extend the period of human health, not life expectancy, so that people can age healthily,” he said.
According to Professor Reich, creating drugs to rejuvenate the skin on the body parts of the elderly that have been cut or burned may be a way to speed healing.
Researchers have shown that this is possible in principle by showing that their regenerated skin cells move faster in injury simulation experiments.
The next step is to see if the technology works in other tissues, such as muscle, liver and blood cells.
Professor Melanie Welham, chief executive of the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which partially funded the research that led to Dolly’s sheep, told the BBC that the long – term clinical benefits of the technology were not far off.
“If similar approaches or new therapies rejuvenate immune cells, they could become less sensitive to aging, increasing people’s response to the vaccine in the future, as well as increasing their ability to fight infection.”
Searching for “Fountain of Youth”
The big question is whether research efforts in this area will lead to full body regeneration, youthful elixir or anti-aging pill.
According to Professor Reich, this idea is not entirely wrong.
“This technique has been used in genetically modified mice and has some indications of rejuvenation. One study showed signs of rejuvenated pancreas, which is interested in fighting diabetes.”
But Robin Lovell-Badge, a professor at the Cricket Institute in London, says the restrictions are substantial.
He did not think it was a trivial matter to change the rejuvenation process to other types of tissue or actually to an anti-aging pill.
“If you find other chemicals that do the same thing, it’s good, but they can be bad. So the ambition is to make sure you find these chemicals easily and think they’m safe.
“It’s very likely that other cell types will require different conditions that are harder to control. And if you can do it safely with the whole body, I think it’s pure speculation, long ago.”
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