Aging is something that most of us don’t really think about, and when we do it is usually because we see or feel its effects. The body changes, of course, as we get older, causing our “biological age” to reflect our “chronological age”. Indeed, appearance, physical performance, and functional capacity (biology) are typically equivalent to how old we are (chronology). Of course, some people seem to “age” better than others; and, as such, scientists have been trying to develop a method for more precisely determining a person’s biological age.
Oddly enough, in trying to create this system, scientists may have stumbled on a means to reverse the aging process as a whole.
Scientists gave nine healthy volunteers a combination of three common drugs for the duration of one year: a growth hormone and two diabetes medications (DHEA and metformin). At the end of the year, the researchers analyzed any marks that might have developed on their genomes to find that each of these volunteers aged backwards. To be clear, the data suggested that these people lost, on average, 2.5 years, from their total biological age.
Essentially, these “genome marks” represent improvement to the body’s epigenetic clock. Effectively, the researchers say that not only did their “biology” regress in age but their immune systems appeared to improve as well. In fact, the researchers say that each volunteer had an immune system that showed definite signs of rejuvenation.
The epigenetic clock is a term given to how the body’s genome changes over time. This is recorded, essentially, in the body’s epigenome, which tracks chemical changes to any organism’s DNA. As we age, our DNA experiences chemical adjustments or other types of changes, which continue through the end of life. By observing these tags—genome marks—scientists are able to accurately estimate an organism’s natural age.
University of California (Los Angeles) geneticist Steve Horvath conducted the epigenetic analysis. He comments that the results of this study were quite a surprise. Apparently they had expected to see a slow down of the biological clock, but not a reversal.