Scientists may have just unlocked a real ‘fountain of youth’

Scientists have reversed signs of aging in mice, increasing their lifespan by 30 percent -– a finding that researchers believe could one day increase the life expectancy of humans.

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California announced Friday that scientists there are literally “turning back time” through a process known as cellular reprogramming, ultimately extending the animal’s lifespan from 18 weeks to 24 weeks – and without accumulating typical hallmarks of aging.

Scientists may have just unlocked a real ‘fountain of youth’

“Our study shows that aging may not have to proceed in one single direction,” Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a senior author of the paper and a professor at Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory, said in a news release. “It has plasticity and, with careful modulation, aging might be reversed.”

The findings, which Belmonte claims indicate aging may be something doctors will one day be able to manipulate, appeared Friday in the journal Cell. Researchers say it’s the first time cellular reprogramming – a process that allows scientists to convert any cell into what are known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) – extended the lifespan of a live animal.

“What we discovered is that we can change the program of a cell in an animal and we can convert an old program into a young program,” said research associate Alejandro Ocampo. “In this study, we were able to slow down aging by introducing cellular reprogramming both in a dish and in vivo.”

 Compared to the untreated mice, researchers said the reprogrammed animals appeared younger, with improved cardiovascular and organ function while living 30 percent longer and not developing cancer. They also showed healthier tissues than the untreated mice and overall did not “accumulate the aging hallmarks,” according to research associate Pradeep Reddy.

The researchers believe the new technique that rejuvenated the organs of mice and extended their lifespan be the “most promising approach to achieve rejuvenation in humans,” according to the news release. But due to the complexities of aging, any clinical trial could be up to 10 years away, they warn.

“Obviously, mice are not humans and we know it will be much more complex to rejuvenate a person,” Belmonte said. “But this study shows that aging is a very dynamic and plastic process, and therefore will be more amenable to therapeutic interventions than what we previously thought.”

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