For many of us, the journey to successful anti-aging can be pricey and ultimately painful. With injectables, plastic surgery and expensive topical solutions all promising younger-looking skin, it can be hard not to get caught up in it all. But what if it was possible to toss all these procedures aside and fix the aging process on a cellular level—sans surgery?
Well, one group of scientists is trying to make this ideal a reality. In a new study published by the journal Cell, researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California were able to use four genes called Yamanaka factors to convert any skin cell into stem cells through cellular reprogramming. Once reprogrammed, the cells are able to divide indefinitely and transform into any cell present in the body, similarly to embryonic stem cells.
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This process, which is called cellular rejuvenation, shows new skin cells replenishing themselves indefinitely and older ones being rejuvenated back into their pristine, younger state. So, when these cells were processed in the lab, they essentially aged in reverse to look and act younger (we’ll give you a minute to pick your jaw up off the floor).
While this may sound like an exciting development, scientists weren’t able to find a way to replicate this process in a live body without cancer developing at first (rapid cell division is mostly associated with cancer in adults). However, the Salk Institute’s new findings just eliminated this issue altogether.
By triggering the Yamanaka factors in mice for shortened periods of time throughout their life rather than all at once, the cells within the mice regenerated into a younger, healthier form without showing any signs of cancer or organ failure. Overall, the mice looked younger, their organ function improved and their life span increased by 30 percent.
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While we have a long road ahead of us before this kind of science will be used in humans, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Even more exciting, the implications for this kind of research are bigger than we can imagine. Not only could this help all of us remain youthful-looking for longer, but it could also delay modern diseases such as cancer or heart disease from occurring.
According to one of the scientists conducting the research, “Aging is the major risk factor for many major diseases; therefore understanding the aging process could have a major impact in trying to alleviate those diseases.” Because the biggest risk factor for major diseases such as cancer, heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders is simply advanced age, the ability to reverse or halt cellular aging altogether would mean the risk of disease would never have the chance to increase in the first place.
Even though this research is clearly in its very early stages, we can’t help but be impressed with it. After all, it’s bringing us one step closer to eradicating disease and making the aging process optional.