Elixir for youthfulness could lie within us

The mythical fountain of youth, which allegedly restores the youth of anyone who drinks or bathes in its waters, has eluded explorers for millennia. It now turns out that they were all along looking for the magical waters in the wrong places; a new study shows that the enigmatic anti-aging elixir could be right inside all of us.

Scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), a private non-profit institution in the United States renowned for its research in molecular genetics, have shown that technically it was possible to reprogram the T-cells in the body to fight aging.
T-cells, also called T lymphocytes or thymocytes, are a type of white blood cells (WBC), which along with red blood cells and blood platelets are formed from stem cells in the bone marrow. The function of T-cells in the body include, among others, fighting infection and in helping fight cancer.

Research by the scientists at CSHL now reveal that given the right conditions and under the right genetic modifications, T-cells can potentially attack another group of cells known as senescent cells. The senescent cells are considered to be responsible for many of the age-related diseases that people grapple with later in life.

Senescent cells stop replicating as we age and accumulate in our bodies resulting in harmful inflammation. While several drugs currently exist that can eliminate these cells, many must be taken repeatedly over time and cause unwanted side effects. As an alternative to these external medications, scientists behind the new study turned to an internal drug called CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T cells.

They discovered that CAR T cells could be manipulated to eliminate senescent cells in mice with no tissue damage or toxicity. The mice ended up living healthier lives, with lower body weight, improved metabolism and glucose tolerance, and increased physical activity.

The scientists also found that when the manipulated CAR T cells were administered to aged mice, they appeared to rejuvenate, and when applied to young mice, they tended to age much slower. No other known therapy has been found to achieve similar results.

The major advantage of CAR T cells was the longevity of their activity; just one dose of these cells given to young mice conferred lifelong effects that protected the mice against conditions that commonly occur later in life, like obesity and diabetes. The T-cells were found to develop memory that persisted for very long periods, compared to the drugs currently available that need to be taken continuously.

The extended ability of CAR T cells to provide protection could potentially be a great advantage to chronic pathological conditions. Discovery of CAR T cells as a potential medical treatment is not new; they have been used to treat various blood cancers, following their approval by the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017. However, the new discovery is the first to show that the medical potential of CAR T cells extends far beyond treating cancers.

The scientists are now reportedly investigating whether CAR T cells not only allow the mice to live healthier youthful lives but also whether it extends their lifespan. If so, then humanity will be one step closer to the elusive fountain of youth.

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