Gaming the aging process is a billion-dollar industry built on plastic surgery, injectables, face creams, lasers, and a heck of a lot of societal pressures. Plastics and fillers aside, most roads of treatment lead to this premise: If we trick our cells into producing more collagen and/or elastin, wrinkles will fade, glow factor will surge, and voilà — skin will look younger. Now, scientists may have found a way to make old skin cells look and act young again, thanks to a breakthrough in so called, “reprogramming factors.”
In a study published to the journal Cell
, researchers from La Jolla, California’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies were able to expand the lifespan of animals by 30%, stoking muscle regeneration and DNA repair in mice who suffered from an accelerated aging disease.
The discovery built on the already proven research: When four genes, called Yamanaka factors, are tapped in a cellular reprogramming process, those cells can transform back to a young and healthful embryonic state. Like stem cells, they can divide indefinitely and morph into any cell type in our body. The only hitch — and it’s a big one — taking this reprogramming treatment from a lab and into a live body poses major risks of cancer and organ failure.
But the Salk Institute researchers discovered a new twist. By activating Yamanaka factors sporadically over the mice’s lives, cells were reprogrammed to look and act younger — without the cancerous effects. Even better, minimized exposure to cellular reprogramming increased the animal’s lifespan by 30%.
"The mice treated with these reprogramming factors had tissues that were better-looking, they were more healthy and they didn't accumulate the aging hallmarks," Pradeep Reddy, a research associate at the Salk Institute, said.
The researchers admit that it will take years of further research before they’re ready to apply the same types of treatments to humans. And while image conscious part of us hopes that we’ll be able to look forever 21 without having to inject toxins into our foreheads or suffer through painful laser treatments, there are bigger payoffs at stake: Just like mice were able to come back from disease, these treatments may help fend off the kinds ailments that can come on simply due to old age — like heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative disorders.