Stop us if you've heard this sci-fi concept before: a cocktail of specialized chemicals that rejuvenates your whole body, from your eyes to your brain, returning everything to a more youthful state.
If that sounds like the stuff of literal myth — or a grossly misfired directorial attempt by the Wachowskis — you're right to be skeptical. Quacks have a lot to gain from convincing consumers to buy miracle cures, nevermind convincing billionaires to underwrite research into them; the reality, though, is that effective life-extension treatments have remained elusive.
That's why we were struck to see a team of scientists that includes researchers from the name-brand Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology sounding off about what they say are promising new leads, published this month in the journal Aging.
"We identify six chemical cocktails, which, in less than a week and without compromising cellular identity, restore a youthful genome-wide transcript profile and reverse transcriptomic age," reads the paper. "Thus, rejuvenation by age reversal can be achieved, not only by genetic, but also chemical means."
Sounds big, right? The researchers claim they pinpointed six treatments that can reverse aging in cells and turn them into a more "youthful state," according to a press release from Aging's publisher, without causing dangerous unregulated cell growth.
As usual, though, caveats abound. Much of the research focused simply on tissues in a lab, and while trials on mice and monkeys yielded "encouraging results," the team has yet to test any of the treatments on human subjects.
However, Harvard Medical School faculty member and lead principal investigator on the project David Sinclair says that preparations for human trials are ongoing. Needless to say, we'll be watching — if nothing else, because Sinclair seems willing to stake his formidable reputation on the work.
"Until recently, the best we could do was slow aging,"he said in the press release. "New discoveries suggest we can now reverse it."
The research team looked at molecules known to "reprogram" animal cells and turn them into pluripotent stem cells, which can transform into any type of cell inside an organism, which makes them a promising candidate for regenerative medicine.
The scientists tested them on specialized cellular cultures where they could observe certain markers of aging known as "deterioration of nucleocytoplasmic compartmentalization," which happen when proteins in a cell's nucleus leaks into the cytoplasm, the jelly-like substance inside it, and fails to be "imported" back into the nucleus.
From those lab tests, they identified six chemical combinations that they say reversed aging in just four days of treatment without changing cell identity like in gene therapy, according to the paper.
While these results are early — and far from being converted into anything commercially or even medically available — it does feel concrete in the generalized circus of the life extension industry, where tech bros have resorted to ridiculous treatments as exotic as drawing blood from younger relatives.
And in the long shot that a treatment like this actually makes it to market? It would be a seismic shift not just for human health, but potentially the entire planet's demographics, social dynamics, and environmental impact. Maybe the mercurial SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is right to warn against it.
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