Reversing the onslaught of time on the human body is perhaps one of mankind's foremost desires and pursuits. Now, a team of scientists from Tel Aviv University (TAU) and the Shamir Medical Center may have very well unlocked the biological keys to the fountain of youth within our bodies by finding a way to reverse two key processes associated with the aging of human cells.
According to the study, administering hyperbaric oxygen treatments (HBOT) to healthy older adults can prevent the aging of blood cells and undo the process of aging; essentially making the blood cells in an individual grow younger with the progression of the treatment.
The team discovered that a novel protocol of treatments can reverse two crucial processes attributed to illnesses and aging—the shrinking of telomeres (sections of DNA that protect the ends of a chromosome) and the build-up of old and dysfunctional cells in the body
"In the current study we wished to examine the impact of HBOT on healthy and independent aging adults, and to discover whether such treatments can slow down, stop or even reverse the normal aging process at the cellular level," said Prof. Shai Efrati, lead author of the study, in a statement.
Turning to Oxygen to Unlock De-aging
The study is based on the authors' research on the potential applications of hyperbaric therapy—treatments that are based on the principle of subjecting an individual to high-pressure oxygen exposure at various levels within a pressure chamber; something that sounds uncannily similar to the apparatus that late Michael Jackson was famously photographed in. "Our achievements over the years included the improvement of brain functions damaged by age, stroke or brain injury," stated Prof. Efrati.
Therefore, in the current study, the team wanted to observe how HBOT would impact healthy aging adults and ascertain whether the treatment can have any positive effects on aging at a cellular level. For the study, the scientists exposed 35 healthy adults who were 64 years or above, to a course of 60 hyperbaric sessions spanning across 90 days.
Blood samples were obtained from all the participants at several points: before the treatment; during the course of the procedure; at end of it; and finally a short while after the conclusion of the therapy. The authors analyzed the collected blood samples and examined the levels of several immune cells in the blood and drew comparisons.
Reversing The Process of Aging
Interestingly, the authors found that the therapy had indeed led to the reversal in the aging process in two of its crucial aspects. The first was that the telomeres found on the ends of the chromosomes increased in length instead of shortening that accompanies cellular aging.
The growth was observed to be at rates between 20 to 30 percent across different cells. Additionally, the authors also found that the percentage of aging and damaged cells within different cell populations reduced remarkably by 11 to 37 percent.
"Today telomere shortening is considered the 'Holy Grail' of the biology of aging. Researchers around the world are trying to develop pharmacological and environmental interventions that enable telomere elongation. Our HBOT protocol was able to achieve this, proving that the aging process can in fact be reversed at the basic cellular-molecular level," explained Prof. Efrati.
Dr. Amir Hadanny, co-lead author of the study, noted that so far, interventional measures such as alterations to lifestyle and adequate exercise have been known to have a suppressing effect on the shortening of telomeres. "But in our study, only three months of HBOT were able to elongate telomeres at rates far beyond any currently available interventions or lifestyle modifications. With this pioneering study, we have opened a door for further research on the cellular impact of HBOT and its potential for reversing the aging process," highlighted Dr. Hadanny.