Researchers have rejuvenated a 53-year-old women’s skin cells so they are the equivalent of a 23-year-old’s.
Research from the Babraham Institute has developed a method to “time jump” human skin cells by 30 years, turning back the aging clock for cells without losing their specialized function. Work by researchers in the Institute’s Epigenetics research program has been able to partly restore the function of older cells, as well as rejuvenating the molecular measures of biological age.
The research is published today in the journal eLife, and while this topic is still at an early stage of exploration, it could revolutionise regenerative medicine.
What is regenerative medicine?
As we age, our cells’ ability to function declines and the genome accumulates marks of aging. Regenerative biology aims to repair or replace cells including old ones. One of the most important tools in regenerative biology is our ability to create “induced” stem cells. The process is a result of several steps, each erasing some of the marks that make cells specialized. In theory, these stem cells have the potential to become any cell type, but scientists aren’t yet able to reliably recreate the conditions to re-differentiate stem cells into all cell types.
Turning back time
The new method, based on the Nobel Prize-winning technique scientists use to make stem cells, overcomes the problem of entirely erasing cell identity by halting reprogramming part of the way through the process. This allowed researchers to find the precise balance between reprogramming cells, making them biologically younger, while still being able to regain their specialized cell function.
In 2007, Shinya Yamanaka was the first scientist to turn normal cells, which have a specific function, into stem cells which have the special ability to develop into any cell type. The full process of stem cell reprogramming takes around 50 days using four key molecules called the Yamanaka factors. The new method, called “maturation phase transient reprogramming,” exposes cells to Yamanaka factors for just 13 days.
At this point, age-related changes are removed and the cells have temporarily lost their identity. The partly reprogrammed cells were given time to grow under normal conditions, to observe whether their specific skin cell function returned. Genome analysis showed that cells had regained markers characteristic of skin cells (fibroblasts), and this was confirmed by observing collagen production in the reprogrammed cells.