Aging is something that has fascinated scientists, philosophers, and spiritual people for thousands of years and at the same time, it has horrified movie stars and other celebrities. It is this fear that has led them to have their skin put under the needle, as their entire stardom is based around looks, the aging process only makes it difficult for them, and they take such drastic actions, and naturally general public wants to follow these as well. As of today, surgeries and anti-aging creams are available in the market but either they are too expensive for the general population or they simply don’t work. However, scientists have been able to reverse the aging process to an extent, could it be the rejuvenating fountain of youth celebrities were looking for? It might as well be.
The science of Aging
Aging in itself is a natural progression of our bodies, and a lot of factors are responsible for the rate of it, as some age faster than others. But the truth is that we all basically have a cellular timer within us that starts as soon as we are born and with the passage of time our continuous structural and functional changes reach a peak point and from there they start to decline until we die. As our cells are constantly dividing and replicating, sometimes this process skips over some of the chromosomes for efficiency, and to protect the essential information each chromosome has Telomeres at each end. With each replication, these telomeres are skipped over and stripped away slowly, and finally, no telomere remains, and cells stop dividing. This entire process results in aging.
Reverse Aging process
If aging is such a process where each and every cell is actually going in that direction with how it is designed to function and these cells have a limit to them how can we possibly stop, slow down, or even reverse aging? A study conducted in 2016 suggested that we could possibly reverse some of the effects of aging, according to the scientists it’s more like the manipulation of the cells. Another study that was conducted in 2020 showed another huge improvement in cognitive abilities, however, both of these studies were conducted on mice and not actual humans, nonetheless the results are quite fascinating.
- Enhancing Physical Aspects: The first study was done solely focusing on the physical abilities of the mice, though its original credit can be given to another experiment that was done in 2006 by Shinya Yamanaka who found the capabilities of embryonic stem cells. This led to something known as Yamanaka factors, these are a group of proteins (information stored in four genes) that plays an important role in the creation of induced pluripotent stem cells. Coming back to the mice study, scientists were briefly able to switch on four genes that have the capabilities to convert matured cells into an embryonic state. In an experiment, they took old mice and then activated these four genes, this had tremendous effects on the physical strength of the old mice. Not in a comical way they became extremely powerful but it was seen that damaged muscles were repaired along with the pancreas and they were able to extend mice life up to 30 percent. Here they suggested that aging is due to epigenetic, meaning it is regulated by genes. After this research it was stated in theory, it should be possible to reverse or at the very least slow down the aging process in animals and people. Though the physical aspects were clearly better, researchers were unaware if it will have any effect on the brain and that was answered in another study.
- Memory Improvement: A team of scientists showed that the change in the extracellular matrix of the brain around the nerve cells causes memory loss as we age. Additionally, they suggested that perineuronal nets or PNNs are responsible for learning and creating new memories, these PNNs are seen as early as in a five-year-old but as we age our brain constantly switches them on and off in order to work more efficiently. After a certain age when our brain is fully optimized, it stops the function of PNNs, though our brain becomes optimized it becomes less plastic in a sense as it no longer creates vivid memories. In order to turn this function back on, researchers experimented with its proportions within a mouse, 20-month old mice to be exact, which is quite old in mice age. Later on, this old mouse was placed in a maze which led to two openings where similar objects were placed, in the first run they let the mouse explore both sides and in the second run, they changed one object and see if the mouse recognized a change and remembered the previous object. They also did the same maze test with a six-month-old mouse to see how they both compare in memory. Surprisingly, they found that both the old and younger mice showed similar levels of brain function. Again, in theory, drugs can be produced which will help senior citizens with memory loss, scientists even suggest that they have already identified a potential drug that induces these effects.
Though there are some species of worms and jellyfish that can complete their life cycle and then revert to the embryonic stage, they are born that way. Are we ready to incorporate these techniques onto ourselves and go against nature? It absolutely is revolutionary, helping memory loss is great but I believe reversing the aging might be pushing it. As time never travels backward.