In a study published in the journal Cell this week, scientists have shown some success with using stem cells to reverse the aging process in laboratory mice but quickly point out that the same process won’t work with humans.. for now.

Mice
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Stem cells find a new use given their ability to remain young

Ponce de Leon, the first to discover present day Florida, spent most of his life there and elsewhere searching for the fountain of youth. Indiana Jones’ father, as well as an uncountable number of others, have spent their lives searching for the legendary Holy Grail that is meant to grant immortality to its bearer. Humans largely don’t wish to die and have been in a constant search for medicines and even legends that would expand their lives since nearly the beginning of human existence. American’s, on average, incur over 80% of lifetime medical expenses in the final five years of their lives. It should come as no surprise that modern day scientists are constantly seeking out ways to keep us alive and reap the financial rewards.

That is certainly the case at the Salk Institue in La Jolla, California where scientists have shown the ability to rejuvenate the organs of mice and, with that, extend their lives by around 30 percent.

Working with the understanding that even if you’re the child of Charlie Chaplin who had kids in his 70s, the child’s life starts afresh at the moment of birth and a fertilized egg doesn’t show the parents age.

Keeping the mice healthy was the key

Many scientists in the past have tried to reprogram cells to effectively turn them back to stem cells thus rejuvenating them. While many have produced younger appearing cells, the mice also quickly developed tumors and died of cancer.

Developmental biologist Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte and his colleagues genetically modified mice to respond to the antibiotic doxycycline and modified four genes that would return the cells to their embryonic form. The first did this in mutant mice which suffered from a type of premature aging known as Hutchinson-Guilford progeria syndrome (HGPS).

Through the use of doxycycline, the researchers effectively rejuvenated the cells in the mice treated.

Professor Izpisua Belmonte said upon publication, “Our study shows that aging may not have to proceed in one single direction.

“It has plasticity and, with careful modulation, aging might be reversed.”

Alejandro Ocampo, who was also part of the team, reported, “What we and other stem-cell labs have observed is that when you induce cellular reprogramming, cells look younger.

“The next question was whether we could induce this rejuvenation process in a live animal.”

“What we and other stem-cell labs have observed is that when you induce cellular reprogramming, cells look younger.

“The next question was whether we could induce this rejuvenation process in a live animal.”

“Obviously, mice are not humans, and we know it will be much more complex to rejuvenate a person,” Professor Izpisua Belmonte said.

“But this study shows that aging is a very dynamic and plastic process, and therefore will be more amenable to therapeutic interventions than what we previously thought.”

While the scientists freely admit that their work is not, right now, something that can benefit humans, they hope that their research will provide themselves and others with a new way of looking at the aging process in the future.