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Researchers Reverse the Aging of Human Skin Cells to Make Them Act 30 Years Younger

By: April Carson

It's not quite a fountain of youth, but it's definitely a step in the right direction: Scientists have been able to alter human skin cells back to a more youthful state on the molecular level, according to researchers.

This is the first time that scientists have been able to successfully reverse the effects of aging in human cells, and while the process is still in its early stages, it could one day lead to treatments that could help people age more gracefully.

While it's still quite early in the game, and we shouldn't get too ahead of ourselves – but the method has the potential to play a significant role in efforts to develop restorative medicine that can reverse some of the negative effects of aging.

The study's significance stems from the fact that skin cells were reprogrammed to be biologically younger while maintaining some of the capabilities that made them skin cells in the first place.

"This is the first demonstration that you can take cells from an elderly person and, using this technique, reverse them to a youthful state," said lead researcher Dr. Aaron Kassir, of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. "Our method opens up the possibility of reversing aging processes in any type of cell from any tissue in the body."

This technique builds on the Nobel Prize-winning work of Shinya Yamanaka in 2007, when Yamanaka was able to transform normal cells with a certain function into stem cells that can grow into any cell type. But this meant that the cell would lose its unique identity.

"Our knowledge of aging on a molecular level has improved in the last decade, resulting in methods that allow researchers to measure age-related biological changes in human cells," says biologist Diljeet Gill from the Babraham Institute in the United Kingdom and study coauthor.

"We were then able to apply this to our study of the effectiveness of our new method, allowing us to precisely quantify the extent of reprogramming."

The improved technique, dubbed "maturation phase transient reprogramming," works more quickly (13 days versus 50 in the Yamanaka team's studies) and stops before the stem cell state is reached, allowing the cell to keep its original identity and functionality.

The method also doesn't require the use of viruses, which can cause DNA mutations.

"This is the first time that somebody has been able to find a way to reprogram cells without going all the way back to a stem cell-like state," says cellular biologist and study coauthor Aziz Aboobaker from the University of Edinburgh in the UK.

"The cells are maintained as skin cells, but they have a youthful state."

The skin cells were shown to have been rolled back in biological age by three decades through a variety of techniques, such as the epigenetic clock (chemical tags that indicate age) and the transcriptome (gene readings produced by cells).

The synthesis of collagen is a major function of skin cells - which may be used to structure tissue and heal wounds - and the young cells were observed to be still producing it. In fact, they were producing more collagen than control skin cells that had not been reprogrammed, and exhibited indications of healing wounds faster.

Cell rejuvenation can extend their lives and improve their function, according to Dr. Gill, but it requires a tremendous amount of effort on the part of scientists and clinicians.

"The fact that we also found a reversal of aging indicators in genes linked to diseases is particularly exciting for the future of this research."

The scientists don't yet know how the mechanism behind maturation phase transient reprogramming works, but they believe that particular essential sections of the genome, which aid in cell identification, may be able to escape it.

There are several age-related health problems to combat as we age - from heart disease to Alzheimer's disease - and the discoveries described here may be used in the future to develop methods to fight them.

The next step will be to try and apply the principles utilized here to other sorts of cells in the body, as well as ensuring that the procedures are completely safe before moving them out of the laboratory and into clinical trials.

We may eventually be able to identify genes that rejuvenate without reprogramming, and specifically target them to reduce the consequences of aging, according to molecular biologist Wolf Reik from the Babraham Institute.

"This technique holds out the possibility for significant findings that might open up a bright prospect of hope."

"The idea that we can slow down, stop or even reverse aging at the cellular level is a really exciting prospect with immense potential," said study lead author Lorna Harries from the University of Exeter.

"This is a sample of cells in a dish and not an animal or human model, so there are invariably going to be limitations in what this model can tell us," she said.

"But the findings are really promising and give a proof of concept that we can start to look at ways of manipulating cellular metabolism to have an anti-aging effect."

The team's next step is to test the same approach in animal models and, eventually, humans.

The findings have been published in the journal eLife.

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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