Through experimentation with a very promising anti-aging technique, scientists at Britain’s Babraham Institute have demonstrated a new way to turn back time in human skin cells. These cells functioned like cells 30 years younger, but in what represents an exciting advance in the field, they were able to retain some of their specialized functions acquired with age.
In 2012, Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka received a Nobel Prize for his work developing what are called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). These start out as regular adult tissue cells that are harvested and exposed to four molecules called Yamanaka factors, which return them to an immature state. From there, stem cells can theoretically grow into any type of cell in the body.
We’ve seen scientists explore this potential in several exciting ways, from implanting them in rabbits to restore vision, treating dopamine deficiencies in animal models of Parkinson’s disease, and repairing damaged heart muscles in pigs. The full reprogramming process involves subjecting cells to Yamanaka factors for around 50 days, but Babraham scientists have found that shortening this process could bring significant benefits to the table.
When cells undergo complete reprogramming, they give up some of the specialized abilities they developed during maturation. In the case of skin cells, this includes the production of collagen for use in tendons, ligaments, bones and to help wound healing. The idea was to restore these cells to a youthful state, but not to completely erase their identity.
Called “transient maturation phase reprogramming,” the team’s new technique exposes cells to Yamanaka factors for just 13 days. This has been found to remove age-related changes and erase their identity, but only temporarily. Allowed to grow under natural conditions, these rejuvenated cells take on the characteristics of skin cells, but with a new outlook on life.
This solves a problem in this area of research, because while stem cells can theoretically grow into any type of cell in the body, creating the conditions in which they do so reliably has proven difficult so far. . The new technique described in this research appears to reach a sweet spot, where the cells are refreshed but continue to play a distinct and important role.
By examining the chemical markers that make up the so-called epigenetic clock and the molecules expressed by the cells, the scientists confirmed that the reprogrammed cells matched the profile of cells 30 years younger. These cells also produced more collagen than control cells and performed more effectively in laboratory experiments designed to replicate wound healing.
“Our results represent a major step forward in our understanding of cellular reprogramming,” said study author Dr. Diljeet Gill. “We have proven that cells can be rejuvenated without losing their function and that rejuvenation seeks to restore certain functions to old cells.”
Interestingly, the scientists also found that the technique also appeared to have anti-aging effects on genes associated with Alzheimer’s disease and cataracts, two of which showed signs of returning to younger levels of activity.
“This work has very exciting implications,” said study author Professor Wolf Reik. “Eventually, we may be able to identify genes that rejuvenate without reprogramming, and specifically target those that reduce the effects of aging. This approach holds promise for valuable discoveries that could open up amazing therapeutic horizons.”
The research was published in the journal eLife.
Source: Babraham Institute via Phys.org