There are scientists reversing aging in mice. The question is whether they will be able to transfer it to humans

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Eternal youth continues to be a recurring theme in the popular imagination, and therefore has drawn the attention of countless researchers. In the lab at Harvard Medical School where geneticist David Sinclair works (and that bears his name) work some of them. His work is focused especially on the relationship between genetics and aging, and it is worth giving a brief review of the state of his research.


Change how we perceive aging.
In a recent intervention in the American chain CNN, Sinclair explained the philosophy that they maintained in the laboratory regarding what they combat: aging. For him and his team, aging is a disease, with its own symptoms, and as strange as it sounds, you are not alone in this belief. What are conventionally considered diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, some closely linked to age, are for this group of experts the symptoms.

The origin, the Yamanaka factors.
Laboratory investigations are largely based on the genetic level and the most recent line of research is no exception. Cells have all the genetic information of our body. That is why it is possible to “rejuvenate” them to the starting point, and convert a developed cell into a stem cell. Shinya Yamanaka got the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2012 after having succeeded six years earlier in converting adult mouse cells into stem cells.

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What does work at the Sinclair lab consist of?
But this process is “going too far” if what is sought is simply to rejuvenate, since stem cells are kilometer zero, without memory, they can transform into any cell that makes up our body depending on the genes that are given to them. activate. What’s more, the first animal tests carried out in a California laboratory that tried to solve this problem in 2016 resulted in mice developing cancerous tumors, although not all experiments at the time gave bad results.

Between the “aging” cell and the parent cell’s tabula rasa, Sinclair and his team see the existence of a “backup” cell, already grown but still youthful. They refer to this conception as the “information theory of aging”. This theory leads them to see aging as a partial loss of information. The cell can’t read the information (as if the CD it stores it on is scratched, he explains) and this leads it to forget what its job is.

How to go from theory to practice.
The team believes they have discovered the button to reset the cell and restore its ability to read its genetic information as before. This is not the elixir of eternal youth, from this return to the initial configuration the recovered cell ages again normally, but it is a substantial step. the team now has managed to recover damaged cells in the optic nerve of mice by just reactivating three of their genes.

Yes, but…
Sinclair, in his talk with CNN he is optimistic about taking these advances from animal models to humans. “We have done it in a mouse. There’s no reason I can think of why it shouldn’t work on a human.” Although the truth is that the transition from mice to humans is a determining factor in which many treatments remain, and not knowing what could fail does not mean that nothing will fail.

“If we were mice, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes and most hereditary disorders would be a thing of the past” writes Sam Zimmerman, also a researcher at Harvard University. We share more than 90% of our genes with these mammals and yet they do not work in the same way, varying depending on the type of cell in which they are developing their function.

This is not to say that the road is necessarily closed either, but it is cause for skepticism. In any case, it is impossible to set a date, although Sinclair, at 53 years old, considers that he himself will be able to witness the moment when the practical results arrive.

Biological and chronological age.
One of the secondary goals of the Sinclair lab is to democratize knowledge about our biological age. biological age differs from the chronologicalthe latter the one that we calculate from the day of our birth, in tells us our real aging.

Biological age can be measured although there are certain discrepancies about how, but monitoring it is not within everyone’s reach. To calculate it, use a series of biomarkers and medical tests may require analyzes that have to be paid for. For Sinclair, a necessary step to prevent aging is to be able to control our state of health.

It works for me.
The work of Sinclair and his laboratory is extensive and not without controversy. The researcher has a certain habit of test your advice on yourself. He boasts of a biological age closer to 40 than his chronological age and alleges that it is thanks to some simple “tricks”. Some of these are endorsed by the scientific community, such as regular exercise, reducing our meat consumption, reducing stress and sleeping well, etc.

Others would be more controversial. An example of this would be the consumption of nicotinamide mononucleotide supplements. The use of this substance is based on the work that Sinclair himself presented nearly a decade ago his work with mice but the most recent published studies they still refer to animal models.

Fight genetics. The work of the Sinclair lab can be seen as a fight against genetics. He gives as an example the genetic predisposition to diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. It is perfectly possible that these end up not manifesting themselves thanks to certain environmental conditions and our way of life. In the same way, a healthy life and good environmental conditions could help combat our genetic predisposition to age. The science is not settled yet, and ironically, only time will tell.

Image | Paul Theodor Oja

Eternal youth continues to be a recurring theme in the popular imagination, and therefore has drawn the attention of countless…

Eternal youth continues to be a recurring theme in the popular imagination, and therefore has drawn the attention of countless…

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