ETERNAL life for humans became a real possibility this week after scientists revealed they had discovered how to REVERSE the ageing process in animals.
Fufilling the dreams of human beings since the dawn of time a team in California have turned back the ageing process in mice and in human skin cells.
And the team are so confident that already they are claiming that using the same process human beings “could live for centuries.”
The work is based on the theory that ageing is not genetic but brought on by external factors like smoking and pollution.
Through skilful cell manipulation the genes triggered into aging by these external influences were returned to an ‘embryonic’ state.
Now the team want to transfer the technique to human beings offering the prospect of eternal life – or at least dramatically extended lifespans of hundreds of years.
The pioneering work by Salk Institute scientists in California – which has the possibility of becoming epoch-defining –
initially prompted human skin cells in the laboratory to look and behave young again.
Further experiments on mice with a premature ageing disease also resulted in reversal of the condition, seeing their lifespan immediately increased by 30 per cent.
Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte said: “Our study shows that ageing may not have to proceed in one single direction.
“It has plasticity and with careful modulation, ageing might be reversed.
“Many of us believe ageing is a non plastic process, it’s not something that we can manipulate but these observations indicate the opposite.”
“What we are doing is rejuvenating a cell.
“That skin cell was previously a stem cell, that’s a process that we call cellular reprogramming, rejuvenating a cell back to its pristine state.”
Research associate Dr Alejandro Ocampo added: “What we and other stem-cell labs have observed is that when you induce cellular reprogramming, cells look younger.
“The next question was whether we could induce this rejuvenation process in a live human.”
David Sinclair, a Harvard University geneticist and anti-ageing researcher who was not involved in the study but is doing similar work said: “This work is the first glimmer that we could live for centuries.
“My lab has a lot of evidence that the primary driver of what we call the hallmarks of ageing is the epigenetic change.”
Dr Ocampo added the Salk study was conducted on middle-aged mice but reprogramming epigenetics would theoretically work on people.
He said even cells from human centenarians could eventually be rejuvenated – restoring their health and fitness to youthful levels.
Matt Kaeberlein, a molecular biologist at the University of Washington who studies ageing but was not part of the work, agreed
the study suggests it may be possible not just to slow ageing but to actually reverse it. He added: “That’s really exciting—that means that even in elderly people it may be possible to restore youthful function.”
But Dr Ocampo also cautioned while cellular rejuvenation sounded desirable and works in a lab there were problems.
For example although rapid cell division was critical in growing embryos, in adults such growth was also one of the hallmarks of cancer.
Dr Pradeep Reddy, a co-author of the report, said: “In other studies scientists have completely reprogrammed cells all the way back to a stem-cell-like state.
“But we show, for the first time, that by expressing these factors for a short duration you can maintain the cell’s identity while reversing age-associated hallmarks.”
The study was published in the journal Cell.