A team of scientists from Babraham Institutefrom the United Kingdom, obtained rejuvenate 30 years of skin cell culture. Do we already have the elixir of immortality or eternal youth? No. Can you at least make people a little younger or stop their aging? Is. Is it then possible to manufacture creams that rejuvenate the cells of our skin? With a bit of luck. But even so, what these scientists have just shown in eLife is good news.
And it is that in reality they managed to reprogram the skin cells until some parameters (not all) were equivalent to those of people 30 years younger. This does not exactly mean that the cells are 30 years youngerbut it looks promising.
It is a procedure still in its infancy, which still has a long way to go to have real applications beyond laboratory cultures. However, scientists are very optimistic about the results because many diseases, such as Alzheimer’sare linked to cellular aging. If a way were found to reverse this aging in other parts of the body, not just skin cells, perhaps they could find mechanisms to slow the progression of these diseases. After all, what science is looking for is not a method to make us eternally young, but mechanisms that help us to healthy aging.
Recycling cell reprogramming
Pluripotent stem cells are those that have the ability to divide and differentiate in any kind of specialized cells Is self-renewal to give rise to more stem cells.
They are very important cells in the study of regenerative medicinefor obvious reasons, but there is a problem getting it.
Remember that after fertilization we have a zygote that gradually divides, giving rise to cells that initially are without specializing. We don’t have liver, eye or skin cells, but pluripotent stem cells that little by little they specialize in any type of cell.
As we become adults, we still retain some that allow regeneration of damaged tissue. Specifically, within each tissue is a colony of stem cells that help regenerate that same tissue when needed. They are what we call unipotent stem cells, because even undifferentiated there is only one type of cell into which they can differentiate. Certain stem cells, called mesenchymal cells, which can develop into various cell types, have also been found in the umbilical cord of newborns and in the fat and peripheral blood of adults.
But, in general, pluripotent stem cells for research are obtained from embryos and that makes your access somewhat restricted. Therefore, a Japanese physician, Shinya Yamanakadevised a method with which he succeeded in cConvert adult stem cells into pluripotent stem cells. The result was named induced pluripotency stem cells (IPS for its acronym in English) and was and still is so useful in biomedicine that it won him the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 2007.
In a way, what Yamanaka was doing was rejuvenating the cells. Therefore, the authors of this new study were clear that to rejuvenate skin cells, they would need to use their method. The problem is that when cells become pluripotent, they can become any type of cell. This includes that they might lose their own skin cell identity.
To avoid this problem, they made a series of modifications to the Yamanaka procedure, which allowed them to rejuvenate the cells, but not so much as putting them back in their state without differentiating them. These were still already differentiated skin cells, but much younger. Concretely, if we stick to certain parameters, 30 years younger.
Indicators of skin cell aging
To check whether they had succeeded in rejuvenating skin cells, they mainly analyzed two parameters.
On the one hand, the epigenetic clock. Epigenetics is the branch of genetics that studies changes in gene expression that do not affect DNA sequence. i.e. some Labels on DNA that read certain genes or others in certain circumstances, but without altering the composition of this genetic material. In short, changes are generated, but there are no mutations involved. These labels also vary over time, so they can be used to measure the approximate age cells.
The study authors found that the epigenetic clock of these skin cells had shifted back by the equivalent of about 30 years. And the same thing had regressed with the second parameter analyzed: the transcriptome. That is to say all the genes that were read in these cells. We know that all cells in an organism have the same genes, but not all of them are read at all times. How either is read also changes with age and can be used as an indicator of aging.
Something specific about skin cells that can also be used as an indicator is the collagen production. This is more prominent in younger cells, so younger skin is smoother and wrinkle-free. They saw that these started to produce more collagen than those who had not undergone the treatment, so it was clear that they had reached rejuvenate them.
And now what?
These scientists have several steps in mind now that they have rejuvenate skin cells.
On the one hand, they want to see if the procedure can be repeated with cells from other parts of the body. This, in addition, can help them study specific diseases. For example, if they work with neurons, they could analyze the effect on neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s
On the other hand, before moving on to clinical tests they must ensure that all steps of the procedure are safe for humans.
They have a lot of work ahead of them and it is too early to really talk about a method to rejuvenate cells or a drug against aging. This is a very important first step, but there is still a long way to go. In any case, those looking for the elixir of eternal youth would have been fascinated by what they achieved. It’s clear.