New research published in the journal BMC Cell Biology shows that old human cells can be rejuvenated using chemicals similar to resveratrol, which is a substance found in red wine and dark chocolate.
The new study was carried out by researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Brighton, both of which are located in the United Kingdom.
Lorna Harries, a professor of molecular genetics at the University of Exeter, led the researchers, and the first author of the paper is Dr. Eva Latorre, a research associate at the same institution.
The new study builds on previous research from the University of Exeter, which found that so-called splicing factors — which are a type of protein — tend to become inactive as we age.
In the new study, the researchers added “resveralogues,” or chemicals similar to resveratrol, to aging human cells and found that they reactivated these splicing factors. This, in turn, not only made the old cells appear younger, but they also started dividing again, as young cells would.
“When I saw some of the cells in the culture dish rejuvenating I couldn’t believe it,” says Dr. Latorre. “These old cells were looking like young cells. It was like magic,” she says.
“I repeated the experiments several times and in each case, the cells rejuvenated. I am very excited by the implications and potential for this research,” Dr. Latorre adds.
Resveratrol is a compound found in peanuts, grapes, red wine, dark chocolate, and some berries.
For us to better understand the context of the new findings, Prof. Harries explained to Medical News Today what mRNA splicing is.
“The information in our genes is carried [in] our DNA,” she said. “Every cell in the body carries the same genes, but not every gene is switched on in every cell. That’s one of the things that makes a kidney cell a kidney cell and heart cell a heart cell.”
“When a gene is needed,” she continued, “it is switched on and [makes] an initial message called an RNA, that contains the instructions for whatever the gene makes. The interesting thing is that most genes can make more than one message.”
“The initial message is made up of building blocks that can be kept in or left out to make different messages,” Prof. Harries added. “[This] inclusion or removal of the building blocks is done by a process called mRNA splicing, whereby the different blocks are joined together as necessary.”
“It’s a bit like a recipe book, where you can make either a vanilla sponge or a chocolate cake, depending on whether or not you add chocolate!” she said.
“We have previously found that the proteins that make the decision as to whether a block is left in our taken out (these are called splicing factors) are the ones that change most as we age.”
Prof. Lorna Harries
“[The findings demonstrate] that when you treat old cells with molecules that restore the levels of the splicing factors, the cells regain some features of youth,” explains Prof. Harries.
“They are able to grow, and their telomeres — the caps on the ends of the chromosomes that shorten as we age — are now longer, as they are in young cells.”
“[We] were quite surprised by the magnitude of [the findings],” Prof. Harries told MNT. She also said that the rejuvenating effects lasted for weeks, which was also very exciting.
The discovery may soon improve the healthspan of seniors. “This is a first step in trying to make people live normal lifespans, but with health for their entire life,” explains Prof. Harries.
On the same note, study co-author Prof. Richard Faragher, of the University of Brighton, says:
“At a time when our capacity to translate new knowledge about the mechanisms of aging into medicines and lifestyle advice is limited only by a chronic shortage of funds, older people are ill-served by self-indulgent science fiction. They need practical action to restore their health and they need it yesterday.”
Prof. Harries also shared with us some of the researchers’ plans for their future investigations, saying, “We are now trying to see if we can find out how the changes in splicing factor levels [cause] cell rescue. We have more papers in preparation on this so watch this space!”