After 13 years of research, Dr David Sinclair and his team have made a breakthrough discovery regarding ageing. Sinclair, a genetics professor at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research, has published research in the scientific journal Cell that unveils a new age-reversing clock capable of rejuvenating cells.
Previous research on the cause of ageing focused on DNA mutations, but Sinclair turned his attention to the epigenome. This component of the genome is responsible for cell differentiation and provides instructions on which genes to activate and which to silence. Sinclair’s Information Theory of Aging proposes that the primary cause of ageing is the loss of essential instructions that cells require to continue functioning.
Sinclair’s most recent findings demonstrate that ageing can be both accelerated and reversed. The research was conducted on mice, and the ageing process was simulated by injecting DNA breaks to create faulty epigenetic signals that set cells on the route to ageing. Using a gene therapy involving three genes that instruct cells to reprogram themselves, the mice’s epigenetic changes were reset, and the ageing process was reversed.
The team is now testing the device on non-human primates and human neurons, skin, and fibroblast cells to determine if it can be applied to humans. In addition, Sinclair expects that eye problems will be the first condition exploited to test the reversal of ageing in humans.
Rejuvenating cells in mice is one thing, but can the method be applied to humans? This is the next step for Sinclair, and his team has already begun testing the device on non-human primates. By linking the activation of the reprogramming genes to the antibiotic doxycycline, the researchers are creating a biological switch that will allow them to turn the clock on and off. Feeding the animals doxycycline would initiate the reversal of time while discontinuing the medicine would stop the process. Now, Sinclair is testing the system in the laboratory with human neurons, skin, and fibroblast cells, which contribute to connective tissue.
In 2020, Sinclair claimed that the technique restored vision in elderly mice; recent studies indicate that the approach is applicable to the entire animal, not just a single tissue or organ. As gene therapy can be administered directly into the eye region, he expects that eye problems will be the first condition exploited to test the reversal of ageing in humans.
Sinclair states, “We consider the mechanisms underlying ageing and disorders associated with age to be irreversible.” “In the case of the eye, there is a common misperception that regeneration of nerves is necessary. In certain instances, however, the existing cells are just non-functional; hence, rebooting them is sufficient. It’s a novel approach to medicine.
” This might imply that a variety of ailments, including chronic problems like heart disease and even neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, could be treated in large part by reversing the ageing process that causes them. Even before that occurs, the procedure might be an essential new tool for illness researchers. In the majority of instances, scientists use young animals or tissues to simulate illnesses of ageing, which does not always accurately replicate the ageing process. Sinclair explains that the new technology “rapidly ages the mice,” allowing researchers to create human brain tissue similar to that of a 70-year-old and then analyse Alzheimer’s disease using the mouse model.
The ramifications of being able to age and regenerate tissues, organs, and perhaps entire animals or humans are mind-boggling. Sinclair has repeatedly regenerated the ocular nerves, which presents the existential challenge for bioethicists and society of what it would mean to continuously reverse the ageing process.
This study is only the beginning of rethinking what it means to age, and Sinclair is the first to admit that it raises more problems than it answers. “We don’t know exactly how rejuvenation works, but we do know that it does,” he explains. “We can utilise it to regenerate sections of the body and maybe create new therapies.” So, when I see an elderly person, I do not view them as elderly, but rather as someone whose system requires a reset. No longer is the question whether rejuvenation is feasible, but when.”