For the first time, scientists have used cellular reprogramming to reverse the ageing process in living animals, enabling mice with a form of premature ageing to live 30 percent longer than control animals.
The technique involves the use of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which lets scientists reprogram skin cells to a base, embryonic-like state. From there, iPSCs can develop into other types of cells in the body – and now researchers have shown that reprogramming cells can also rejuvenate living creatures, in addition to winding back cells.
“In other studies scientists have completely reprogrammed cells all the way back to a stem-cell-like state,” says researcher Pradeep Reddy from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
“But we show, for the first time, that by expressing these factors for a short duration, you can maintain the cell’s identity while reversing age-associated hallmarks.”
The iPSC technique was developed by Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka in 2006, when he discovered that differentiated cells could be wound back to embryonic-like stem cells by inducing the expression of four genes now known as the Yamanaka factors.
But while reprogramming cells to such an embryonic-like state sounds like it might make organisms younger, it also introduces dangerous complications. Research in 2013 and 2014 found that introducing iPSCs in living animals was fatal, resulting in cancerous growths or organ failure from adult cells having lost their identity.
Exciting research. I’ll be more interested when they get a mouse to live longer than Yoda, the mouse who lived four years and 12 days, equivalent to 136 human years. Most laboratory mice live for about two years, so Yoda had over 100% increase in lifespan. A 30% increase in lifespan for a mouse with a two year life expectancy would give the mouse another 7 months. Sometimes I like to imagine that biological immortality will be achieved in our lifetime. Of course, once we are immortal biologically, we will get really concerned with overpopulation, resources, avoiding accidents, eventually moving to another planet, and so on, a whole new set of problems.