- Human skin cells can be ‘time-jumped’ by three decades using a new scientific process.
- Aged cells regained markers associated with collagen-producing skin cells.
- According to the researchers, their discoveries could lead to a more tailored strategy for addressing aging
For generations, it has been the fantasy of women – and men. Scientists claim to have discovered a mechanism to slow down the aging process in human skin.
Researchers in Cambridge claim to have reprogrammed skin cells from persons as young as 38 and as old as 53 to make them look 30 years younger.
The technology slows down the aging process more than prior reprogramming methods while avoiding cell damage.
According to the researchers, they can even partially restore functions that have been lost in elderly cells.
While the study is still in its early stages, the discoveries have the potential to revolutionize regenerative medicine, according to the researchers, especially if they can be repeated in different cell types and tissues of the body.
Aging cells resembled skin cells called fibroblasts, which make collagen, a protein that ties the body together and keeps it strong, in trials.
With age, the number of fibroblasts in the human epidermis diminishes. As we age, these cells become shriveled as well.
According to the researchers, the new results could lead to a focused strategy for treating aging, which could ‘revolutionize’ regenerative medicine.
The new study was published in the journal eLife and done at the Babraham Center, a Cambridge-based life sciences research institute.
‘Our findings reflect a significant advance in our understanding of cell reprogramming,’ stated Babraham Institute’s Dr. Diljeet Gill.
‘We’ve shown that cells can be renewed without losing function, and that rejuvenation can appear natural.’
‘The fact that we also detected a reversal of aging signs in genes linked to diseases bodes well for the future of this research,’ says the researcher.
The ability of people’s cells to function reduces as they age, and their genome – their DNA blueprint – collects indications of aging.
The goal of regenerative biology is to repair or replace cells, especially those that have died.
Our ability to make ‘induced’ stem cells is one of the most essential tools in regenerative biology.
However, this procedure essentially deactivates the cells’ functions and allows them to transform into any cell type.
The research began in the 1990s at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh with the goal of converting a mammary cell from a six-year-old sheep into an embryo.
Dolly the sheep was the first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell as a result of this effort.
Dolly’s creation demonstrated that genes in the nucleus of a mature cell may revert to an embryonic totipotent state, meaning the cell can divide to produce all of the different cells that make up an animal.
This cleared the path for Nobel Laureate Dr. Shinya Yamanaka to become the first scientist to convert normal cells with a specified function into stem cells with the ability to develop into any cell type in 2007.
The Yamanaka transcription factors – Oct4, Sox2, Klf4, and cMyc – are used in this approach, which takes around 50 days to complete.
The novel approach developed by the Babraham Institute, known as ‘maturation phase transient reprogramming,’ exposes cells to Yamanaka factors for only 13 days instead of 50.
The cells had not converted into embryonic stem cells at this time but had been ‘rejuvenated’ as though they were 30 years younger.
The partially reprogrammed cells were allowed to develop in normal settings for a period of time in order to see if their specific skin cell function was restored.
Genome analysis revealed that the cells had regained skin cell markers (fibroblasts), which were validated by collagen synthesis in the reprogrammed cells.
The researchers sought alterations in the signs of aging to suggest that the cells had been revived.
When compared to reference data sets, the reprogrammed cells matched the profile of cells that were 30 years younger, according to the researchers.
Because IPS raises the risk of cancer, the technology cannot be immediately applied in a clinical context.
The next stage in the research is to figure out the exact mechanism that enabled this partial reprogramming, but it could someday be employed for cellular therapies in instances where the age of the cells matters, such as burn skin healing.
Collagen, a substance present in bones, skin, tendons, and ligaments, is produced by fibroblasts and aids tissue structure and wound healing.
Researchers from the Babraham Institute discovered that rejuvenated fibroblasts produced more collagen proteins than control cells that did not undergo the reprogramming procedure.
Fibroblasts also migrate to areas in need of repair, so the researchers used an artificial cut in a layer of cells in a dish to test the partially rejuvenated cells.
They discovered that their treated fibroblasts moved into the gap faster than older cells, which is a promising sign that the technique could one day be used to create wound-healing cells.
The novel approach will also be tested on other tissues such as muscle, liver, and blood cells, according to the researchers.
The researchers discovered that their technique had an influence on other genes connected to age-related disorders and symptoms, which could lead to new therapeutic possibilities in the future.
Both the APBA2 gene, which is linked to Alzheimer’s illness and the MAF gene, which plays a role in cataract formation, revealed young transcription alterations.
Key parts of the genome important in determining cell identity, according to the researchers, may be spared from the reprogramming process.
‘This finding has extremely intriguing implications,’ said Professor Wolf Reik, a group leader in the Epigenetics research program who just transferred to lead the Altos Labs Cambridge Institute.
‘Eventually, we may be able to identify genes that regenerate without reprogramming and target them precisely to minimize the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,’ says the researcher.
‘This method holds potential for important findings that could lead to a new treatment horizon.’
Professor Reik told the BBC that the idea of a youth elixir or anti-aging medication isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility.
‘The procedure has been used on genetically engineered mice, and some signs of rejuvenation have been shown,’ he said.
‘One study revealed symptoms of a regenerated pancreas, which is intriguing because it could help with diabetes.’