Images captured by an electron scanning microscope shows a cell in column B rejuvenated and dividing after being treated with resveratrol. Column A features a cell treated with a control substance. Photo by University of Exeter
Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Scientists have found a way to breath new life into old, inactive human cells.
As detailed in a new paper published in the journal BMC Cell Biology, the rejuvenation technique had cells dividing within a few hours of treatment. The resuscitated cells also boasted longer telomeres, the chromosome caps that shrink as cells age.
Researchers at the University of Exeter found that a group of genes called splicing factors get turned off one by one as cells grow older. Scientists, however, found different chemical concoctions can turn the splicing factors back on, causing cells to look and act younger.
To kickstart the rejuvenation process, researchers exposed cell cultures to reversatrol analogues, chemical derivatives of a substance that occur naturally in red wine, dark chocolate, red grapes and blueberries.
Aging is linked with a variety of cellular defects, and these degenerative effects increase the likelihood of many chronic diseases, including stroke, heart disease and cancer.
The latest discovery could pave the way for treatments that slow down the aging process and prevent such defects, diminishing the risk of aging-related diseases.
"This is a first step in trying to make people live normal lifespans, but with health for their entire life," Lorna Harries, a professor of molecular genetics at Exeter, said in a news release. "Our data suggests that using chemicals to switch back on the major class of genes that are switched off as we age might provide a means to restore function to old cells."
Scientists have previously slowed the cellular aging process in lab mice through chemical stimulating, genetic manipulation and caloric restriction, but researchers were surprised to achieve such definitive and rapid results among human cells.
"When I saw some of the cells in the culture dish rejuvenating I couldn't believe it. These old cells were looking like young cells. It was like magic," said Eva Latorre, research associate at Exeter. "I repeated the experiments several times and in each case the cells rejuvenated. I am very excited by the implications and potential for this research."
Splicing factors are genetic instructions for a variety of tasks. These factors inform cells how to function and react under a range of circumstances. But as cells age, these splicing factors begin to shut down, leaving cells less adaptable.
Every organ features so-called senescent cells, cells that are still alive but that don't function properly. With fewer or no splicing factors, these cells are less able to control their genetic expression, making the cells and organ more susceptible to disease.
"When you treat old cells with molecules that restore the levels of the splicing factors, the cells regain some features of youth," Harries said. "Far more research is needed now to establish the true potential for these sort of approaches to address the degenerative effects of aging."