A new study carried out in California surprisingly shows that scientists might be able, at some point, to reverse biological aging and will no longer be limited to slowing it.
Researchers found in the study reported by Nature that healthy subjects shed about two and half years from their biological age after taking a cocktail of drugs. This was measured using the body’s epigenetic clock.
In addition, the immune systems of these volunteers seemed to receive a boost.
These results were beyond the expectation of the scientists who carried out the research.
“I’d expected to see slowing down of the clock, but not a reversal,” Steve Horvath, a geneticist at the University of California in Los Angeles, said. “That felt kind of futuristic.”
Horvath carried out the epigenetic analysis, which appeared in the journal Aging Cell.
Biological age and the epigenetic clock
There is a difference between a person’s chronological age and their biological age. The former has to do with how long the person has lived. On the other hand, the latter is more concerned about aging – that is, in terms of symptoms and disorders of old age that are present.
It is the biological age that really matters when it comes to health and wellness. For example, a person may be 30 years in chronological age, but have an older biological age compared to peers.
Scientists rely on what is called the epigenetic clock in trying to measure the biological age of an individual. The biochemical test depends on the epigenome of the body, which include methyl groups for tagging DNA.
It is believed that the pattern of DNA tags changes as a person grows older. This is then used to estimate the biological age of the individual.
Horvath is a pioneer in research related to epigenetic clocks.
Regenerating the thymus gland
The original intention with this research was to find out whether growth hormone could be safely used to regenerate tissue of the thymus gland in humans. This gland, which is found in an area of the chest between the breastbones and lungs, is important for immunity against infections and diseases.
White blood cells, which are created in bone marrow, reach maturity in the thymus gland. This is where the cells turn to specialized T cells that the body uses to combat infections and dreaded conditions, including cancer.
Previous research had shown that growth hormone may help to restore the thymus. However, this natural substance is also thought capable of encouraging diabetes. For this reason, the hormone was used together with two anti-diabetic agents, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and metformin, in the current study.
This cocktail was served to subjects in the Thymus Regeneration Immunorestoration and Insulin Mitigation (TRIIM) trial led by Gregory Fahy, an immunologist and a co-founder of Intervene Immune. The study participants were nine, white middle-aged men with ages between 51 and 65 years.
The researchers observed that the drug cocktail seemed to improve blood-cell count in each subject that received it. This was based on tests carried out on blood samples taken during the treatment period.
The scientists also used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to check the state of the thymus at the beginning and end of the trial. They noticed restored thymus tissue in place of stored fat in seven of the subjects after treatment.
Prior to the current study, Fahy tried a combination of growth hormone and DHEA on himself as a result of his fascination by a study done by some other scientists several years earlier. He noted some improvement in his own thymus from doing this.
In the course of their research, the team in the current study made a finding they did not quite expect initially. They found that the drug cocktail helped to reverse biological aging by roughly 2.5 years in the subjects.
Horvath assessed the biological age of each participants using four different epigenetic clocks. He observed notable reversal in aging and results were consistent across the subjects, although the years shed varied.
Another interesting thing about this finding was that the effects of the cocktail continued months after treatment. This was on the basis of evidence from blood samples obtained from the subjects six months after the study ended.
The researchers were quick to point out, however, that the trial and its findings were preliminary. Subject size was small and there was no control group in the study.
Fahy stated that the drugs making up the cocktail might help in different ways to reverse biological aging. The drug metformin, for instance, is being investigated for its potential to offer defense against a variety of age-related conditions, including cancer.
There is plan for a larger study that will include women and people of different age groups and ethnicities.
It May Be Possible To Reverse Your Biological Age, Says Preliminary Study | IFLScience (https://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/it-may-be-possible-to-reverse-your-biological-age-says-preliminary-study/)