In the ongoing quest for everlasting youth, scientists often speak about discovering the “cause of ageing”. You think by now they’d have worked out the cause of ageing is the passing of time, but hey, if it keeps them out of trouble who are we to ruin their fun?
In Japan, researchers believe they have come a step closer to understanding the mechanics of ageing at a cellular level, with a discovery that could turns old cells new.
The prevalent theory on the reason our cells do the things they do as we age, causing hair loss, curvature of the spine and osteoporosis, for example, is called “the mitochondrial theory of aging”. It basically says our cells are genetically primed to mutate and cause the “defects” (scientists don’t like to sugar-coat things) we associate with ageing.
But. Researchers from the University of Tsukuba in Japan looked at how mitochondria in cell lines behaved in young people, and compared them with cell lines derived from older people and found they behaved the same. This suggests it may be some kind of external factor causing the cell defects, not an in-built mechanism.
There were no observable differences in the number of mitochondrial DNA mutations between the older and younger cells.
The researchers theorised that “resetting” the cell lines to stem cells would correct and remove these epigenetic factors. After testing this theory, the results, published in Science Reports, were amazing: the scientists were able to turn “old” cells back into “young” ones.
The next step was bathing the cell line from a 97-year-old in an amino acid called glycine. Wait for it… this restored energy to the cell and reversed some age-related defects.
Now before you get too excited remember we’re talking about a cell in a petri dish, not an actual 97-year-old suddenly leaping up and dancing the hula. But the implications of this discovery could be enormous.
The quest for the reversal of ageing as often described as the “holy grail” of scientific research.
Imagine if we did have, at our disposal, a simple treatment that could reverse the effects of ageing by restoring elasticity to our skin and brains, bringing life back to worn-out joints, smoothing, firming and strengthening as it went.
The idea raises so many questions:
Would it be available to everyone?
How would you know when to stop taking the treatment?
How would you feel about a loved one who refused to take it?
Would the pressure to look young destroy the concept of ageing gracefully?
We’d love to know your thoughts on this issue: Would you really want to be forever young? Would you take a treatment that reversed ageing?