Author: Divine Eche
Imagine a reality where your 80 year old grandmother could look nearly half her age. Believe it or not, researchers at Babraham Institute are developing a new kind of technology that could make this possible.
What is this technology?
Researcher’s in the Institute's Epigenetics Research Program have developed a novel technique for rejuvenating skin cells (aka reversing aging) called Maturation Phase Transient Reprogramming (MPTR). Aging occurs in nearly all organisms, it is defined as the gradual decline in cell tissue and function overtime.This emerging technique has the ability to turn the biological clock back up to 30 years as cells are programmed to behave more like youthful ones.
MPTR technology opens the door for advances in regenerative medicine. As years pass, our cells’ ability to function declines and the genome accumulates marks of aging. Regenerative medicine focuses on repairing and replacing old cells to restore or establish normal function. Induced Stem Cells are special cells that are often used for regenerative purposes. Derived from skin or blood cells that have been reprogrammed back into an embryonic state, these stem cells become a blank slate, with the potential to become any type of human cell. The process works by erasing some of the marks that make a cell specialized. Though, after the process was complete, scientists would struggle to differentiate the cells.
How does MPTR work?
The new MPTR method solves the older problem by entirely erasing the cell identity. The full process of stem cell reprogramming takes around 50 days using four key molecules called Yamanaka Factors. MPTR halts reprogramming part way through the process, exposing cells to Yamanaka Factors for just 13 days. At this point, age-related changes are removed and the cells have temporarily lost their identity. The partly reprogrammed cells are given time to grow under normal conditions, this allows researchers to find the precise balance between reprogramming cells. After observing the collagen production in newly reprogrammed cells, genome analysis showed that cells had regained specific markers characterized (fibroblasts) with skin cells. The induced stem cells were now biologically younger while still being able regain their specialized cell function.
It should be noted that the starting age of the cell could possibly be a confounding variable. The study solely examined the effects of MPTR on fibroblasts from middle aged donors, approximately a 30 year rejuvenation was observed.
What does the future look like?
Maturation Phase Transient Reprogramming has the potential to address many age related complications. Wound healing is a major problem for many older individuals with chronic, non-healing skin ulcers being a major source of healthcare costs and patient morbidity. While human skin can repair itself, it cannot compare to the speed of other animals, such as the axolotl salamander who readily regrow a severed limb. MPTR can be used to create new rejuvenation technology which could synthesize cells that are better at healing wounds.
Besides wound healing, stem cell reprogramming has the capability to cure age related diseases, such as Alzheimer's, as well other therapeutic applications like reversing the effects of aging. Ultimately, MPTR is a technology full of many unknown possibilities, nonetheless, more research and investigation needs to be done. Who knows, one day we may be able to regenerate parts of the body as fast as the axolotl salamander.
Babraham Institute. (2022, April 8). Old skins cells reprogrammed to regain youthful function: Findings could lead to targeted approach for treating aging.. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 20, 2022 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/04/220408083901.htm
Gill, D., Parry, A., Santos, F., Okkenhaug, H., Todd, C. D., Hernando-Herraez, I., Stubbs, T. M., Milagre, I., & Reik, W. (2022, April 8). Multi-omic rejuvenation of human cells by maturation phase transient reprogramming. eLife. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from https://elifesciences.org/articles/71624
Skin regeneration and rejuvenation. Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI). (n.d.). Retrieved May 20, 2022, from https://hsci.harvard.edu/skin-regeneration-and-rejuvenation