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Regenerative medicine – the treatment of youth without old age?

Regenerative medicine – the treatment of youth without old age?

Throughout time, researchers have tried to answer one of the greatest desires of people, regardless of their gender: the prevention of aging.

Regenerative medicine – the treatment of youth without old age?

If until now people could improve their physical appearance only with the help of aesthetic medicine, today, researchers are one step away from a new extraordinary discovery – cell rejuvenation. Thus, from this point we are no longer talking about obtaining a better, more youthful physical appearance, but about a much larger, more complex transformation, which may soon revolutionize everything we know so far about the stages of life.

And after all, who doesn’t want to enjoy eternal youth and beauty?

Is aging a reversible process?

Researchers at the Babraham Institute have developed a method to “turn back time” in human skin cells by 30 years, reversing the aging process of the cells without losing their specific function. Researchers in the Institute’s Epigenetics research program have succeeded in partially restoring the function of aging cells, as well as rejuvenating molecular measures of biological age. The research is in an early exploratory stage, but it is an important step that could revolutionize regenerative medicine.

What is regenerative medicine?

As we age, the ability of our cells to function decreases and the genome accumulates signs of aging. Regenerative biology aims to repair or replace cells, including “aging” cells. One of the most important tools in regenerative biology is the ability of specialists to create “induced” stem cells. The process is the result of several steps, each erasing some of the signs that cause cells to age. In theory, these stem cells have the potential to become any type of cell, but scientists are not yet able to reliably recreate the conditions to redifferentiate stem cells into all cell types.

Back in time

The new method, based on the Nobel Prize-winning technique scientists use to produce stem cells, overcomes the problem of completely erasing the identity of cells by stopping part of the process from reprogramming. This allowed the researchers to find the precise balance between reprogramming cells, making them biologically younger while being able to regain their specific cellular function.

In 2007, Shinya Yamanaka was the first scientist to transform normal cells that have a specific function into stem cells that have the special ability to develop into any type of cell. The complete process of reprogramming stem cells takes about 50 days using four key molecules called Yamanaka factors. The new method, called “transient maturation phase reprogramming,” exposes cells to Yamanaka factors for just 13 days. At this point, age-related changes are removed and cells temporarily lose their identity. The partially reprogrammed cells were given time to grow under normal conditions to see if their specific function returned. Genome analysis showed that the cells regained markers characteristic of skin cells (fibroblasts), and this was confirmed by observing collagen production in the reprogrammed cells. Thus, the “rejuvenation” process also begins, without the need for external factors, such as hyaluronic acid or botox.

Age is not just a number

To show that the cells were rejuvenated, the researchers looked for changes in the hallmarks of aging. As Dr. Diljeet Gill, a postdoctoral fellow in Wolf Reik’s lab at the Institute who led the work, explained: “Our understanding of aging at the molecular level has advanced over the past decade, giving rise to techniques that allow researchers to measure age-related biological changes in human cells. We were able to apply this to our experiment to determine the extent of reprogramming of our newly developed method.”

Regenerative medicine – the treatment of youth without old age?

The researchers looked at several measures of cellular age. The first is the epigenetic clock, where chemical tags present throughout the genome indicate age. The second is the transcriptome, which represents all the gene reads produced by the cell. By these two measures, the reprogrammed cells matched the profile of cells that were 30 years younger compared to the reference data sets.

In this way, the cells not only look younger, but also function like young cells. Fibroblasts produce collagen, a molecule found in bones, skin tendons and ligaments, helping to structure tissues and heal wounds. The rejuvenated fibroblasts produced more collagen protein compared to control cells that did not go through the reprogramming process. Fibroblasts also move to areas that require “repair” or a rejuvenation process. The researchers tested the partially rejuvenated cells by creating an artificial cut in a layer of cells. They found that their treated fibroblasts moved into the gap faster than the older cells. This is a promising sign that one day this research could eventually be used to create cells that heal wounds better.

In the future, this research may open up other therapeutic possibilities; the researchers noticed that their method also had an effect on other genes linked to age-related diseases and symptoms. The APBA2 gene, associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and the MAF gene involved in the development of cataracts, both showed changes towards younger levels of transcription.

The mechanism behind successful transient reprogramming is not yet fully understood and is the next piece of the puzzle that needs to be explored. The researchers speculate that key areas of the genome involved in shaping cell identity may escape the reprogramming process.

Diljeet concluded: “Our results represent a major step forward in our understanding of cell reprogramming. We have shown that cells can be rejuvenated without losing their function and that rejuvenation aims to restore certain functions of old cells. The fact that we also saw a reversal of markers of aging in disease-associated genes is particularly promising for the future of this work.”

Professor Wolf Reik, group leader in the Epigenetics research program who recently moved to lead the Altos Labs Cambridge Institute, said: “This work has very exciting implications. Eventually, we may be able to identify genes that rejuvenate without reprogramming and specifically target those to reduce the effects of aging. This approach holds promise for valuable discoveries that could open an amazing therapeutic horizon.”


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