Forever young? EUMC scientists discover the key to 'reversing ageing’

Rotterdam scientists discover key to ‘reverse ageing’ Photo: Scicasts

Last week Erasmus University Rotterdam made headlines all around the world, thanks to scientists at Erasmus University Medical Centre who found a way to turn back the effects of ageing following experiments on elderly mice.

It's a major breakthrough in the anti-ageing process.

'Youth is wasted on the young,' said Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. Well, not for long, as researchers at Erasmus University Medical Centre (EUMC) are on to finding the Fountain of Youth. The project initially centred on an investigation into cells that play a role in ageing, but the scientists have now found a way to alter those cells. 

This discovery was published on 23 March in the leading scientific journal Cell. Peter de Keizer, a researcher in EUMC's Department of Molecular Genetics and a lead author in this study, was being cited in many major newspapers and websites around the world.

In the Guardian he explains how our cells accumulate DNA damage as we age, which beyond a certain threshold cannot be repaired. 'At this point, cells can either turn cancerous, self-destruct, or enter a semi-dormant state, called senescence,' he says. 

Initially these cells were thought to be neutral bystanders that no longer make a useful biological contribution, but were harmless. The Rotterdam research has revealed that the senescent cells are in fact leeching a whole cocktail of chemicals and molecules that may be disrupting the healthy cells that surround them, potentially causing inflammation and even ageing.

Research published last year showed that removing the cells caused mice to live 20% longer on average. The latest paper is the first to show that ageing cannot only be delayed but potentially reversed by removing these cells.

The mice that were used in the study – naturally-aged mice and others that were genetically engineered to age rapidly – have regrown their hair and their sluggish disposition has changed. They also started moving around more and exploring their cages. The fitness benefits began to show, with older mice running double the distance of their counterparts who did not receive the treatment. A month after treatment, the aged mice showed an increase in markers indicating healthy kidney function.

'Have they found the Elixir of Youth?' asked the Daily Mail. Other websites and newspapers posed the same question. Researchers had previously found a way to slow down ageing. 'But turning back time proved to be very difficult,' says Keizer on the website Criticasts. 'This discovery can help in further studies on healthy ageing and how people can become healthier once they have ailments. Moreover, it appears to work well for certain end-stage cancers and helps in the search for treatments for these cancers.'

Text: Manon Sikkel Daelmans


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