Can the Aging Clock be Reset?

No matter how old we are, most of us have had the fantasy of winding back the clock on our personal aging process. Whether it’s having less wrinkles or grey hair, or even feeling like we did 20 years ago, most of us wish we could experience it again.

Well, thanks to researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, such a dream may not stay a figment of our imagination for much longer. Scientists believe it is now possible to wind back the biological clock. Aging would not only stop. It would reverse. At least in mice (for now)!

We all know that as people live longer, their risk of developing age-related diseases increases. In fact, data shows that the biggest risk factor for heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders is simply age. One clue to halting or reversing aging lies in the study of cellular reprogramming.

In research published in the journal, Cell, Salk Institute scientists were able to rejuvenate mice with the premature aging disease, progeria, by reprogramming (or rejuvenating) cells. When the reprogrammed cells were examined, it was found that they exhibited a reversal of multiple hallmarks associated with aging. Compared to untreated mice, the reprogrammed mice looked younger; their cardiovascular and other organ function improved; and—most surprising of all—they lived 30% longer, yet did not develop cancer. The researchers suggest that the discovery could also be used to help humans.

Leonard Guarente, who studies the biology of aging at M.I.T., said, “This is huge,” citing the novelty of the finding and the opportunity it creates to slow down, if not reverse, aging. “It’s a pretty remarkable finding, and if it holds up it could be quite important in the history of aging research,” Dr. Guarente said.

Salk Institute scientists explained that the main goal of the study was to find a way to improve human health by providing more healthy years. Dr. Alejandro Ocampo, one of the researchers said. “We would like people to reach 90 or 100, but to be healthy for the duration of that lifespan, and not to suffer from the symptoms of aging. However, we also understand that if we’re able to improve health, at some point lifespan will also be extended.”

“I think we will see some of this work being applied in the next 10 years,” Ocampo noted. “I don’t know whether that will be [with the goal of] lifespan extension, but certainly to slow down some of the aging symptoms.”
Another lead researcher, Izpisua Belmonte added, “Obviously, mice are not humans and we know it will be much more complex to rejuvenate a person. But this study shows that aging is a very dynamic and plastic process, and therefore will be more amenable to therapeutic interventions than what we previously thought.”

The Salk researchers believe that the findings may be the most promising approach to achieving cell rejuvenation in humans. However, they caution that, due to the complexity of aging, these therapies may take up to 10 years to reach clinical trials.

Other Anti-Aging Research Most of us Don’t Know About

Most are unaware that Alphabet Inc. (the parent company of Google) has a whole unit devoted to extending human life, called Calico, in which it has invested $1.5 billion. Most of the focus, however, is on cancer and age-related diseases. Time magazine ran a cover story a few years ago, titled “Google vs. Death” about Calico, a then-new Google-run health venture focused on understanding aging — and how to beat it.

But how exactly is Calico helping humans live longer, healthier lives? It’s pretty hush-hush. Information has been scarce on the company’s anti-aging efforts. There are a few potential explanations for Calico’s secrecy. Among them is that Calico is just waiting for a big reveal. A December 2017 article in the MIT Technology Review, which was also scant on details about Calico’s anti-aging science, hinted that might be the case.

In Fortune Magazine, last month, a rare glimpse into Calico’s current research was provided. The research, which is in its earliest stages, is being done on mouse models—including 750 mice segregated into five groups with different diets. The idea is to explore how caloric intake influences overall health. (A major recent global health study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was one of the first to pinpoint how poor diet and nutrition has an effect on life expectancy and quality of life.) To conduct the study, Calico scientists are tracking the growth of yeast cells to probe how cellular aging affects the behavior of cells, and how they begin to break down. We will update you on the findings as they become available.

Better Your Own Odds of Living a Longer, Healthier Life

Will the research at the Salk Institute and at Google’s Calico Center translate into potential treatments for humans? It remains to be seen. Until then, do what you can to better your odds of living a long, healthy life. Focus on eating healthy, exercising, and minimizing stress; develop good social ties with a healthy community; and stay physically active in whatever way works for you. Forget tobacco and substance abuse and eat proper amounts of nutritious food. And have a best friend. Or two. Last, but certainly not least — have something worthwhile or meaningful that you do in your life!

As you are taking care of yourself and enjoying your life, it is also a good idea to plan for your future and for your loved ones. Our firm is dedicated to helping protect seniors preserve dignity, quality of life, and financial security. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please call us to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law Attorney: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law Attorney: 202-587-2797

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