New Research Indicates Aging May Be Reversible

New Research Indicates Aging May Be Reversible

    Often times, we think of aging as a definite and unavoidable process, something that we have no control over; new research argues the opposite, stating that aging may be manipulated, and is plastic rather than concrete.1 It has only been tested in the mouse model, but data suggests that the slowing or even the reversal of aging might be a real possibility in the future. Research hinges on the idea that aging is based on epigenetics, meaning that our environments, and how environmental factors influence the human genome, are central to the question of aging.1,2 It is already known that aging occurs as a result of numerous genes being turned on or off over our lifetimes, which is why the focus of current studies is to use genetic engineering to reverse the changes that have been made. By doing this, we can theoretically “turn back the clock”, removing signs of aging, improving organ health and extending lifetime.1

    Scientists were able to accomplish significant success in mice trials, with the mice exhibiting fewer signs of aging, healthier organs, and extended lifespans, with the mice living 30 percent longer than the control mice.1,2 This was done by genetically engineering a few genes, specifically those responsible for turning adult cells into embryoniclike cells.1,2 Since specific environmental factors such as smoking or pollution can influence these genes in a negative way, thus increasing aging/decreasing lifespan, the concept is that the same can be done in the opposite direction - and it seems as though this theory may be fairly accurate. The system of proteins responsible for activating and suppressing genes in the DNA, termed the epigenome, plays a critical role in differentiation and maintenance of the body’s cells, and is now likely the key to unlocking the mysteries of biological aging.2

    Even with how incredible a breakthrough such as this is to the scientific community, the question still remains: Is this really a good idea? When viewing information such as this, many would say we are playing with fire, attempting to engineer the immortal human, but the reality of the situation is much less sinister.1 With the current research, it may be plausible to say that we will be able to return some youthful functionality to the elderly, and even increase lifespan in the near future. Anything else would be baseless speculation. There is a very fine line between helping and harming an organism when conducting experimentation such as this, and researchers have already witnessed how treating mice too often actually resulted in the formation of tumors, which killed them in a matter of weeks.1 Human trials and experimentation are definitely in the works, but it will likely take a number of years to reprogram cells to assure that tumor growth is not induced.1,2

 

References:

1. Weintraub, Karen. “Aging is Reversible - at Least in Human Cells and Live Mice”. Scientific American. December 15, 2016. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/aging-is-reversible-at-least-in-human-cells-and-live-mice/

2. Wade, Nicholas. “Scientists Say the Clock of Aging May be Reversible”. New York Times. December 15, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/science/scientists-say-they-can-reset-clock-of-aging-for-mice-at-least.html?_r=0

 

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