In pursuit of ‘elixir of youth’, one study at a time

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December 4, 2020 5:00 AM

Recent research based on mice tests may hold the promise of an epigenetic reset option

Harvard has licensed the technology to Life Biosciences, a Boston-based company. (Representative image)

Researchers led by specialists at Harvard have restored vision in old mice and mice whose retinal nerves were damaged by resetting markers that gather on DNA as cells get older. As per the research, published in Nature, it could be possible to have some cells revert to ‘youth’, with better repair/replacement abilities. Epigenetic changes occur as cells age, when specific chemical groups get added, removed or altered over the years (or months/days, in the case of animals with shorter life-spans). Starting with the premise that these changes are linked to the effects of ageing, the researchers set out to reset the epigenome.

Previous research had shown four genes, in tests on mice genetically engineered (GE) to age faster than usual, could reset cells to behave in a stem-cell-like manner; switching them on for a few days and then turning them off caused the GE mice to age more slowly than peers, but the problem was that the technique could trigger tumours in the mice. In the present instance, the researchers dropped the gene associated with cancer and used a viral vector to transfer the other three into the subject mice’ cells.

By giving the mice water with a certain drug to switch the genes on, and then dropping the drug to switch them off, the team brought about the regeneration of damaged retinal nerves. Harvard has licensed the technology to Life Biosciences, a Boston-based company.

Of course, the work so far has been on mice and only on vision-related cells—and it is difficult to say if it will eventually carry over to people and has potential for other cells, but the possibilities of having an ‘elixir of youth’ could have just become stronger.

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