Red wine and dark chocolate could hold the clues to eternal youth

Breakthrough study reveals possible route to reversing the signs of ageing

9 Nov 2017
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Ageing is a natural process of the human body. We become more susceptible to diseases and illnesses as we grow older, thanks to our failing cells. But what if we could be like Benjamin Button and regain our youthful vigour?

It might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but it turns out a solution to natural deterioration may be possible. Scientists at the University of Exeter have discovered that they can rejuvenate cells by using resveratrol analogues, a compound based on a chemical that is naturally found in red wine and dark chocolate.

Our cells enter senescence as we age; a kind of hibernation mode that stops them from dividing and growing. There are a huge amount of senescent cells found in the organs of the elderly. The splicing factors that help genes perform to their best ability, for example, become increasingly inefficient after they begin turning off. These switched-off splicing factors make people more vulnerable to cancers and strokes. Remarkably, the team of scientists, led by Lorna Harries, has found a way to turn them back on.

The findings, which have been published in the BMC, explain that when cells made contact with the resveratrol analogues, they started to show signs of rejuvenation within mere hours, quickly becoming active again. The cells regained features of youth, beginning to divide. The cells’ chromosomes even started to show signs of growth.

“This is a first step in trying to make people live normal lifespans but with health for their entire life,” says Harries. “Our data suggests that using chemicals to switch back on the major class of genes that are switched off as we age might provide a means to restore function to old cells.”

The team aren’t sure what exactly the mechanisms are behind the rejuvenating effects of resveratrol, but hypothesise that it may be due to a new youthful pattern of splicing. The answer could potentially lie in the effects observed on the chromosomes.

The discovery comes in the wake of the most recent developments in CRISPR, which allows the targeted editing of genes. Like CRISPR, cell rejuvenation also flags up some ethical issues in the field of biology. What are the far-reaching effects? Could this have the potential – as some argue CRISPR does – to lead to "editable" humans?

While the research into resveratrol is still in very early development, it does raise the question as to whether we could one day see an elixir for cell regeneration – and with it, the prospect of everlasting youth.

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