What would you do if you suddenly became 10 years younger? Would you sneak into the McDonalds PlayPlace? Would you go trick-or-treating? Or would you just head back to elementary school where life was so much simpler?
It’s pretty much a law of life, time doesn’t slow down for anybody whether we like it or not. It’s a common sympathy that if only there was a way to go back, we would use our experience to take it in and do things better. Now with some certifiably awesome developments in medical sciences, there might just be a way to do that.
Before that, what does aging REALLY mean?
We are a clump of cells. From deep down into our muscles and nerves all the way to our skin on the outside. We are made up of cells. As cells begin to age, many harmful changes occur at a micro-level such as shortened telomeres and dysfunctional mitochondria.
Telomeres are the caps on the ends of chromosomes that protect them from end replication issues and oxidative damage from reactive products. Basically a shield protecting the DNA in your chromosome from the outside. There has been an inverse correlation between telomere length and age, in fact, scientists have been able to predict the life span in many different animals using the telomere length.
As we age, our telomeres become shorter which can be harmful to the person. When the telomeres shorten, they leave parts of the chromosome exposed and as a result, leave sensitive DNA out in the open. Once your body realizes that the DNA in the cell is being damaged, its main priority is to make sure that the faulty cell doesn’t replicate, or else it can lead to some serious mutations. As a defense-mechanism, it releases a DNA damage response which tells the cell “HOOOLD ON THERE!!”. This process permanently prevents the cell from entering the cell cycle, making them senescent cells.
The negative effects of cell senescence are vast. Senescent cells will make it difficult for your body to heal wounds, suppress tumors, and can even induce many age-related diseases. Pretty bad stuff.
The mitochondria are more than just the powerhouse of the cell. They play a crucial role in many of the cell’s functions. They help balance calcium levels, control your metabolism (and change it in response to stress), assist in heat production, and are a big part of the aging process. It might just be the most important organelle in the cell. As you grow older, these functions of the mitochondria start to decline and as a result, there are a lot of connections between mitochondria and many age-related diseases.
The combination of the shortened telomeres triggering cell senescence and aging mitochondria impairing body functions play a significant role in our bodies slowly degrading over time, shortening our lifespan as a whole. If we could just find some way to solve this problem, we would be one GIGANTIC step closer to adding decades to our lives…
Say hello to iPSCs!
Every single cell in your body started from the same place. Pluripotent stem cells are “baby” cells that can be turned into any cells that make up the germ layer (bone, muscle, blood, lungs, brain, skin, and SO much more!). Now as amazing as they are, these cells don’t just grow on trees. They are mostly found in the internal mass of early embryos. Not exactly easy to get.
With recent advances in medical sciences, a Japanese team of scientists found out that by adding certain growth factors into a mass of adult somatic cells, they were able to revert them into something that bore an eerie resemblance to pluripotent embryonic cells. This gave way to the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC).
By resetting the epigentic age of the cells, clinical studies have shown that we can also reverse the detrimental effects that we covered earlier:
Telomere length: After measuring the telomere lengths of the iPSCs and their parent cells they were differentiated from, it was found that there is an increase in the mean length. The same also applies to iPSCs derived from senescent cells too.
Dysfunctional mitochondria: After analyzing the number and morphology of the mitochondria, there is promising results that leads to the notion that resetting it might reprogram the gene expression of the organelle as a whole.
Now even though these are very exciting discoveries, there is still a lot of challenges in iPSC development before we can even bring this into common medical practice. Uncontrolled differentiation of cells, poor immune response from the body, and increased risk of cancerous genes stand in between us and this next scientific breakthrough. That said, it still doesn’t change the fact that this might be an innovation that changes the face of humanity forever.
- Aging has many negative effects such as shortened telomeres and dysfunctional mitochondria
- iPSCs can be made from adult cells and be used to reverse the negative effects of aging
- There are still a lot of barriers to overcome before we bring this to medical practices