Here's Everything You Need To Know Right Now About The Science Reversing Ageing
This could help us fight age-related diseases in the future.
Scientists have managed to reverse the ageing of human cells by injecting them with the toxic gas hydrogen sulfide (yep, the one that smells like rotten eggs).
The University of Exeter research, published in the journal Aging, used senescent human cells and delivered a tiny amount of hydrogen sulfide to the mitochondria of the cells (otherwise known as the cell's powerhouse).
Hydrogen sulfide occurs naturally in cells and plays an important role in regulating cell function.
This process of injecting the toxic gas managed to reverse the ageing of these cells, making them functional again so that they could keep delivering their specialised genetic messages like normal living cells.
Professor Lorna Harries, co-author of the paper and researcher in molecular genetics from the University of Exeter, told BuzzFeed News that the research is important because it shows that it is possible to rejuvenate aged cells.
Harries says that this sort of research could help to reduce age-related diseases in the future "because it allows us to target old cells. By partially restoring old cells to a younger form, we hope that this will help restore some of the tissue function lost by age".
Okay, but what the hell are senescent cells?
Senescent cells are cells in a suspended state: they don't divide and they have a different physiology to normal cells, but they still have active metabolisms.
Dr Simon James, a research fellow from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, told BuzzFeed News these suspended cells are considered to be one of the reasons why our bodies age.
"As we get older, we lose strength and muscle and bone density ... those things have a lot of causes but at least one of the causes is that increase in senescent cells", he said. "By limiting the accumulation of those cells, we can intervene positively on those declines."
For example, lobsters do not have senescent cells, which means that they are able to grow, reproduce, and maintain all of their muscular strength until they die.
A study from Mayo Clinic in 2016 demonstrated that if you remove senescent cells from mice, their median lifespans extend by 17% to 42%.
The mice without senescent cells also maintained their heart and kidney function for a lot longer than untreated mice of the same age.
Cool, why can't we be lobsters then?
We should not be lobsters.
Senescent cells actually play an integral role in protecting the body against cancer.
James notes that when cells become senescent, it's a sort of holding state that stops cancerous cells from developing.
"There's almost something of a trade-off that humans as an organism have sort of settled on," he said. "Okay, there's some level of senescence that we can deal with because that helps our risk of getting cancer. But the flip side is that if you had more senescence, you might get Alzheimer's earlier in life."
It's important to note that this research is not about extending lifespans, it's about extending "healthspans".
Harries states that while this kind of cellular age-reversal may have a huge impact on medicine, it's not a case of Benjamin Buttoning the population.
"Our aim is not to increase lifespan, it's to increase healthspan, so people live a greater proportion of their lives with good health, which is a good thing for patients, families and the healthcare system", she said.
Ageing is related to the development of Alzheimer's and heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, dementia and macular degeneration.
James says that understanding the role that hydrogen sulfide plays in ageing gives researchers the "opportunity to maybe make sure we don't fall apart as quickly as we get older — diet and exercise work well, but that's boring, so who wants to do that?"