Can biological signs of life be reversed?

Marks of Life

 

A recent study published by Aging Cell, found that biological age can be reversed through the use of a drug ‘cocktail’ containing hormone medications. The study involved 9 healthy men between the ages of 41 and 55 taking the medication a few times a week for 1 year. The study found that on average patients experienced a reversed biological age of 2.5 years.

Aging Cell commented that to their knowledge it is ‘’the first report of an increase, based on an epigenetic age estimator, in predicted human lifespan by means of a currently accessible aging intervention.’’

Biological age can be predicted by ‘epigenetic clocks’ which scan the DNA and determine the biological age, by picking up chemical tags formed throughout the DNA strands. These chemical tags form almost like a barcode, allowing the biological age to be predicted within a range of about 2-3 years.

The study however, according to lead author Gregory Fahy, wasn’t intended to reverse biological age, but to prevent the shrinking of the thymus gland, which continually deteriorates as humans get older. This is the organ responsible for preventing various pathogens from entering the immune system.

Fahy undertook his own solo trial in the early 2000s, which initially attempted to enlarge the thymus gland with similar growth hormones. Although evidence of re-growth was identified, the more recent study replicated the effects with a larger cohort, and to reveal if a group of self-administered growth hormones could replicate the regeneration of the gland – the study seemingly exceeded these initial expectations.

Rewinding the Clock

 

Metformin, a drug commonly prescribed for its effects on diabetes and weight loss, is being tested by researchers for its potential in reversing common age-related diseases such as cardiovascular health and cancer. Fahy informs that the cocktail can have different effects on biological aging through various separate mechanisms in the respective drugs.

Although this study seems to be groundbreaking in epigenetic sciences, Fahy acknowledges that ‘‘this is a small study’’ which perhaps is the main concern behind these findings. A much larger study needs to be ‘‘replicated with a larger more diverse group’’ says Fahy, with many fears of placebo effects or uncertainty over the pool’s potential lifestyle changes which may have affected the findings.

Regardless of the concerns around the conclusion, Sara Hagg, epidemiologist for the Karolina Institute in Sweden, told Live Science ‘’the idea that biological age can be reversed is a highly interesting observation’’. In addition, cancer immunologist Sam Palmer at Hariot-Watt University in Edinburgh informed Nature Magazine that this has ‘‘huge implications not just for infectious disease but also for cancer and ageing in general’’.

 

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