As aging populations continue to increase, scientists are actively looking for ways to slow down aging for humans beyond anti-aging skin care and stem cell research. Some studies have produced interesting results that might make synthetic age reversal more attainable.
Synthetic age reversal context
Clinical studies found that indicators of human aging include metabolic disease, muscular loss, neurodegeneration, skin wrinkles, hair loss, and an increased risk of age-related illnesses like type 2 diabetes, cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease. By focusing on the different biomarkers that cause aging, scientists hope to discover how to slow or reverse deterioration (synthetic age reversal).
In 2018, researchers from Harvard Medical School found that reversing the aging of blood vessels could hold the key to restoring youthful vitality. Researchers reversed blood vessel and muscle degeneration in aging mice by combining the synthetic precursors (compounds that enable chemical reactions) in two naturally occurring molecules. The study identified the fundamental cellular mechanisms behind vascular aging and its effects on muscle health. The findings suggest that therapies for humans may be possible to address the spectrum of diseases that arise from vascular aging. While many promising treatments in mice don’t have the same effect in humans, the results of the experiments were convincing enough to prompt the research team to pursue studies in humans.
In March 2022, scientists from Salk Institute in California and the San Diego Altos Institute successfully rejuvenated tissues in middle-aged mice using a form of gene therapy, raising the prospect of medical treatments that can reverse the human aging process. The researchers drew on Nobel laureate Professor Shinya Yamanaka’s prior research, which revealed that a combination of four molecules known as Yamanaka factors could rejuvenate aged cells and transform them into stem cells capable of producing almost any tissue in the body. The researchers found that when older mice (equivalent to 80 years old in human age) were treated for one month, there was little impact. However, when the mice were treated for seven to 10 months, starting when they were 12 to 15 months old (about age 35 to 50 in humans), they resembled younger animals (e.g., skin and kidneys, in particular, displaying signs of rejuvenation).
However, repeating the study in humans will be much more complex because human cells are more resistant to change, possibly making the process less efficient. In addition, using Yamanaka factors to rejuvenate aged humans comes with the risk of fully reprogrammed cells turning into clumps of cancerous tissue called teratomas. The scientists say that further research is needed to develop new drugs that can partially reprogram cells safely and effectively before any human clinical trials can occur. Nevertheless, the findings reveal that it may one day be possible to develop therapies that can slow or even reverse the aging process, potentially resulting in prevention therapies for age-related diseases, such as cancer, brittle bones, and Alzheimer’s.
Implications of synthetic age reversal
Wider implications of synthetic age reversal may include:
- The healthcare industry pouring billions into synthetic age reversal studies to improve diagnoses and preventive therapies.
- Humans undergoing several age reversal procedures beyond stem cell implants, leading to a growing market for age reversal treatment programs. Initially, these therapies will only be affordable to the rich, but may gradually become more affordable to the rest of society.
- The skincare industry collaborating with researchers to develop more science-backed serums and creams that hyper-target problem areas.
- Government regulations on human experiments of synthetic age reversal, particularly making research institutions accountable for the development of cancers as a result of these experiments.
- Longer life expectancy for humans in general, as more effective preventive therapies against common diseases like Alzheimer’s, heart attacks, and diabetes become available.
- Governments with rapidly aging populations embarking on cost-benefit analysis studies to explore whether it is cost-effective to subsidize age reversal therapies for their respective populations to reduce the healthcare costs of their senior populations and keep a greater percentage of this population productive in the workforce.
Questions to comment on
- How might synthetic age reversal treatments create societal and cultural disparities?
- How else may this development affect healthcare in the coming years?