Have Scientists Finally Found The Fountain of Youth?

In an amazing breakthrough, French researchers were able to restore the youth of cells taken from people aged over 100 years to reprogram them to the stem cells stage. The work published in Genes and Development Journal would suggest that aging is reversible.

Jean-Marc Lemaitre from Fonctionnelle Génomique Institute (INSERM / CNRS / Université de Montpellier) led the study, which could change our entire view of aging. The aged cells were “reprogrammed to be pluripotent stem cells in vitro – IPSC (Induced pluripotent stem cells), which have the youth and characteristics of embryonic stem cells (hESC).”

Juan Ponce de Leon never imagine to look in Montpellier, but I can tell you the people there have always looked fantastic.

One week inventing artificial muscle and now reversing the aging process. If only someone is working on love handles, I will be good to go.

The question is, if we ever were able to reverse aging, would we allowed it or ban it given our growing over-population problems? We just turned the corner of 7 billion people and many believe that we are reaching the tipping point in terms of depletion of resources and disease. The chart below are projections without scientific measures to reverse aging:

Source: Doctor as first seen on Reddit.

33 thoughts on “Have Scientists Finally Found The Fountain of Youth?”

  1. ShireNomad, It’s a good movie and virtually a direct lift from “Repent Harlequin, Said the Tic Toc Man” by Harlan Ellison. He Sued Fox movies for the rip-off and now has a credit, and who knows what else, as a settlement. Good for him, it’s probably one of the all-time favorite S/F short stories ever penned.

  2. Blouise, “I always find talking with Tony to be both fun and educational.”

    You’re right about that. Tony’s entrance on the blawg was pretty spectacular and I’ve been a fan ever since.

  3. “Gee I really hope this works – because what we really need, more than anything else is for the uber-wealthy that can afford this hanging around even longer.”

    I’m just jumping in to point out that this is the sci-fi element to the new movie “In Time”: a world where the rich are virtually immortal, and days of life are exchanged like currency. Creepy to think how close we’re getting…

  4. lotta,

    I always find talking with Tony to be both fun and educational. Thanks for getting him deeper into the subject … it was a great read!

  5. Tony, Wow! Thanks for the information. Obviously my understanding of the brain is so primitive as to be virtually non-existent. The information regarding pruning is fascinating. Actually, it seems very logical considering the size of the neurons, dendrites, axions and the actual business end of the chemical synapse’s. Smaller is better. The closer together the equipment coupled with a cleaner (or less cluttered) environment should equal a more efficient mechanism as a whole. The clean-up process, dissolving and discarding unused connections is an amazingly good way to increase efficiency. I spend a lot of time defragmentating my discs; I’m a believer in consolidation and clean-up. 🙂

    I really appreciate that you have taken the time to make these postings. The link you provided as well as a couple I found are bookmarked and I will re-visit them to update my understanding. I agree, “Lots of fun questions”.

  6. @Lottakatz: At birth, the infant brain is about 30% of the size of the eventual adult brain, and in the first two years about triples in size. That still isn’t the ultimate growth; maximum size is at around 16 or 17; after that the brain volume shrinks slightly, as we head toward the physiologically adult brain, which occurs around the age of 25.

    Although it is not clear what controls the timing; brain development undergoes some clear milestones. In children, up to 10/11, there is an enormous over-production of synapses; like five or ten times the normal rate of synaptic production. The brain seems to over-link any coincidence into possible cause and effect. The brain is also thinking (firing) at about half the adult speed, and unreliably.

    At some point in the 10/11 age (girls about a year earlier than boys) the party is over, and a process of synaptic pruning begins, in concert with a process called myelination; the nerves in the brain are coated with a fatty sheath called myelin. This is not super-fast, it is a physical growth process. It changes the electrical nature of the firing, it doubles the speed of the impulses, and it makes them far more reliable and less susceptible to interference; like insulation on a wire.

    (Recently we have seen this science go mainstream for children’s educational TV: Blue’s Clues. children think at about half the speed of adults, and they have difficulty processing overlapping talking, interruptions, and fast repartee or argument: So what adults think of as entertaining, the un-myelinated, over-synapted children just cannot mentally process in real time, they are overwhelmed, and quickly bored.

    On Blue’s Clue’s, there are what feel to adults like interminably long pauses between questions and answers, but that is because the child-viewers are being given the average time it takes actual children to process and answer such questions. The only fast speech is for songs and scripts that the children learn to parrot by repetition).

    The myelination process does not occur globally, all at once: It occurs in stages, one brain sub-system at a time. The first system to get the super-charging upgrade is the limbic and emotional brain; about a year after puberty we see that kick-in with hyper-emotionality in the early teens, that gets worse into the mid teens.

    Around 16/17 the myelination process is still continuing, but a process of severe consolidation and synaptic pruning has begun, the brain actually shrinks in volume as little-used connections are dissolved and ditched.

    The myelination process completes around the age of 25, the last big project is the frontal cortex, where logical thinking, predictive ability, consequence and risk assessment reside.

    Throughout this period, from puberty to 24/25, what we observe in behavior, psychology, and risk-taking correlates pretty well with the imbalances in brain module performance based on the progress of the myelination process.

    Many of the components of what we think of as teenage rebellion, irresponsibility, impulsiveness, combativeness and hyper-sexual, hyper-social thinking seem like sensible side-effects of the brain remodeling that is going on at any given age. “Hormones” are blamed, but most of the blame is due to structural imbalances emerging and biological structures still under construction.

    It is possible some of this has an evolutionary component; the advantages of reproduction before one has the sense to know what one is getting into, and at the most disease free, healthy and energetic point in life, are clear from the pure survival viewpoint.

    On the other hand, it may just be necessity; emotional decisions are really at the root of thought, perhaps they need to be fast in order to “know” how to rewire the subsequent systems. The cortex is the latest evolutionary innovation, perhaps it is last because the network is being rewired from the base up.

    Either way, IMO the human animal is not really a cognitive adult until about 24 or 25. They have brains that are not fully physically developed, they are emotionally over-driven, and they cannot properly judge the risks they are taking.

    I am not making any kind of argument here, I am just outlining some of the many changes occurring in the brain during development. Less major changes are still occurring after 25, including synaptic pruning and new synaptic generation. Neurons are repaired, replaced, destroyed, and new neurons are born and crawl through the brain (like amoeba) until they are recruited into new circuitry. (Called neurogenesis).

    It’s pretty interesting; and we know very little about the why and how of much of this activity. Where are those new neuron’s going? Are they following a chemical pathway to a place they are needed, or just wandering around until they find work to do? If they are following a pathway, how did it get laid down, and what caused some other cluster of neurons to signal they needed a new guy?

    Lots of fun questions, I think.

  7. Tony, Thanks for the in-depth reply. I was thinking about the fact that the neurons do change shape and that the shape is hardened into permanence (long term memory) by reinforcement – repeated application of neuro-electrical energy. I was not thinking (and that I’m sure has ruined a whole bunch of totally cool theories) about the web of neural pathways and filaments that interconnect.

    Yes, that’s probably a show stopper since those things are developed over time with experience and thought. My reading on the subject is not at all deep and may be entirely outmoded by scientific progress and understanding. It was my reading that the neurons were grown in-utero and you didn’t grow more later. What you have at birth (or very, very shortly thereafter, is all you get. The actual networks formed between them though are formed later.

    The analogy to the CD/DVD was indeed flawed – I saw the neurons as the ‘shiny stuff’. Even if the analogy could be stretched to fit that concept you still have the ‘wiring’ to put in. Just reproducing the shape of the individual neurons doesn’t do anything.

    Realizing that I have virtually 100% ignorance regarding the appropriate language of the subject I’m going to at least give it the respect of a Wikipedia search: Dendrites and Axons. Those are the little guys that comprise the wiring cloud that turns all the data into thought and all the stimuli into recognizable (or autonomic) cause and effect. Obviously, from a cursory read of the page, my information is pretty dated. Neurogenesis does continue in two parts of the brain, one the target of Alzheimer’s. That’s why stem cells could work to alleviate that disease.
    I need to read more.

    “Of course that could all be just technological problems” LOL, yes, and sizable they are. You know though, if I think about my childhood technology and today’s, it is a completely different world, a completely different age and it is a young age. A hundred years from now … ?

  8. @LottaKatz: Something like that would have to be done in order to preserve an individual personality if cloning (as the old SF pulps meant it) were to be successful would it not?

    We would have to reproduce the physical 3-D structure of the brain with atomic microscope accuracy, yes, including growing the neurons and synapses.

    In this case,the synaptic clefts are about 20 nanometers wide, and we would probably have to get to nanometer precision throughout the brain. A typical human hair is about 75,000 nanometers in width. The current semiconductor industry (2011) is producing simple switches with about 22 nm resolution; but take a look at the picture in the link: The synaptic operation is a lot more complex than a simple switch.

    The brain is nearly an atomic scale device. By comparison, a carbon atom has a Van Der Waals radius of about 70pm, = 0.07 nm. To reproduce the brain faithfully, we’d have to have a 3-d pixel size of about 15 carbon atoms!

    Of course that could all be just technological problems.

  9. @Lottakatz: So I’m wondering if, at some point of technological development, a 3d read of a functioning brain could not be taken and then a 3d write of a newly formed brain could not be done.

    I don’t think so. The “electrical hardening” you are talking about is actually physical growth of the neurons, creating nubs and branches to create synapses or increase synaptic strength; but these are biological growth methods.

    The analogy to a CD is flawed, the CD is manufactured under tight control in a factory and then “writing” it is just changing the reflectivity of certain points with a laser. But that silvery material is engineered to accept either either permanent or reversible changes, the changes in the brain that have made a person unique are not superficial, they are actual, physical, literal, biological changes in the neural cells, including new growth.

  10. This is another approach to ageing that may in the short term be more fruitful and in the long term more philosophically attuned to the actual desire for a longer life. Do we want to live longer or live the years we have with relative freedom from the deleterious effects of the aging process. Living longer but living ‘old’ is no real advance IMO. Sixty isn’t the new 40 no matter how many people say it’s so.

    “Extending healthy life by getting rid of retired cells”

    “As we get older, many of the cells in our bodies go into retirement. Throughout our lives, they divided time and again, all in the face of radiation bombardments and chemical attacks. Slowly but surely, their DNA builds up damage to that threatens to turn them into tumours. Some repair the damage; others give up the ghost. But some cells opt for a third strategy – they shut down. No longer growing or dividing, they enter a state called senescence.

    But they aren’t idle. Senescent cells still secrete chemicals into the body, and some scientists have suggested that they’re responsible for many of the health problems that accompany old age. And the strongest evidence for this claim comes from a new study by Darren Baker from the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine.

    Baker has developed a way of killing all of a mouse’s senescent cells by feeding them with a specific drug. When he did that in middle age, he gave the mice many more healthy years. He delayed the arrival of cataracts in their eyes, put off the weakening of their muscles, and held back the loss of their body fat. He even managed to reverse some of these problems by removing senescent cells from mice that had already grown old. There is a lot of work to do before these results could be applied to humans, but for now, Baker has shown that senescent cells are important players in the ageing process.

    Note that the mice in this study didn’t live any longer; they just spent more of their life being healthy. …”

    linked from BoingBoing:

  11. From the reading I’ve done in lay-persons mags and the like it’s my understanding that the neural network is constructed and ‘hardened’ electrically, the more electrical impulses sent along various pathways and to specific neurons the more rigid and fixed they become. The plastic nature of neurons accounting for short and medium term memory is a product of electrical stimulation. If some neurons and networks aren’t reinforced electrically they return to a more pliable resting state and the data is lost but can be written over with other data.

    So I’m wondering if, at some point of technological development, a 3d read of a functioning brain could not be taken and then a 3d write of a newly formed brain could not be done. Not to be funny here but we do a grossly primitive form of that with DVD’s. Something like that would have to be done in order to preserve an individual personality if cloning (as the old SF pulps meant it) were to be successful would it not?

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