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Have scientists just found out how to reverse aging?
No, this isn’t an advertorial where we try to sell you miracle pills, it’s genuine bonafide research which could eventually lead to reversing the aging process. In a study published in Science, an international team of scientists have discovered what makes cells age in a way that corresponds to physical deterioration.
The team, led by Juan Carlos Izpsua Belmonte at the Salk Institute was studying the gene responsible for Werner Syndrome – a disease that makes young adults display symptoms of aging before their time: heart disease, osteoporosis and grey hair to name a few.
In short, they discovered that the reason people with Werner Syndrome aged early was due to the way in which their DNA was packaged.
Patients with Werner Syndrome are low in the gene responsible for copying DNA. After removing the gene from stem cells, the scientists were able to see the cells aging prematurely and why it happened. DNA is typically tightly bound into chromosomes, resembling a rope. When the cell divides, it unwraps, a segment at a time. As Time explains, in Werner Syndrome “the chromosomes are slightly messier, more loosely stuffed into the nuclei, and that leads to instability that pushes the cell to age more quickly.” Suffice it to say that when the stem cells went on to become bone, muscle and other tissue, they aged considerably faster than those with the normal amounts of the missing gene.
Looking closer, the scientists discovered that older patients’ stem cells had fewer genetic markers for the chromosome instability than the younger patients. In short, the protein isn’t just relevant to Werner Syndrome – it works in all humans.
“It’s clear that when you have alterations in [chromosome stability], the process of aging goes so quickly and so fast that it’s tempting to say, yes, this is the key process for driving aging,” Belmonte told Time.
Before you go splicing your genes in a fit of trying to stay young though, it’s not definite yet. Firstly altering genes in stem cells is not the same as altering them in people. Additionally, there could be other factors involved in human aging that you don’t see on a cellular level. But in the long run, if the findings can be transferred to living breathing humans, then we could see life expectancy increase dramatically.
Now we just need science to come up with an answer to all of the problems associated with overcrowding that longer lives lead to…