Turning back time! Ageing is REVERSED in men using a cocktail of growth hormones and diabetes
drugs in study that saw test group shed 2.5 biological years
- Researchers at UCLA used a trio of common drugs to restore the thymus
- The gland specialises immune cells that fight cancer and infection and degrades with age
- Growth hormone combined with two diabetes drugs made the thymus regenerate
- After a year on the drug cocktail the nine white men involved were an average of 2.5 years biologically younger than they had been at the study's start
A cocktail of three common drugs appeared to not only slow ageing but to reverse it in a small new study published in Nature on Thursday.
Nine people were given a growth hormone and two diabetes drugs for a year as part of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), trial.
By the end of their cycles on the medications, the study participants had, biologically aged 2.5 years - in reverse.
At first blush it looks like a revelation for human health and life expectancy - but the small group of participants were all white men and there was
no control group to compare the findings to, drawing some skepticism from experts.
To many, immortality is the holy grail of futurism and medicine.
And even if you don't idealise the notion of living forever, with ageing comes disease and the body's degradation, so evading the damage that time does
to us could mean living a healthier life as well as a longer one.
Much more critical to the length and quality of our lives than our numerical age or the lines on our faces is how our body's are changing at the cellular
and molecular levels.
Scientists gauge biological ageing by something called the 'epigenetic clock.' One method of doing so was developed by co-author of the new study,
UCLA's Dr Steve Horvath.
This age assessment looks at changes to how DNA is expressed. As we age, chemical tags called methyls start to hang on to molecules of DNA.
Theses pesky changes don't alter the sequence of the DNA, but they can disrupt the way a section of the genetic code gets turned on and off or issues
instructions to biological structures.
More methyls are added to DNA over time, so it becomes more predisposed to disruption, and we become more predisposed to ageing itself as well as cancer.
Many factors influence this process, called methylation, and can make our biological clocks race ahead of or trail behind our age in years.
The process effects every organ and tissue in the body - including a vital gland called the thymus.
The thymus functions like finishing school for the white blood cells that drive much of the immune system.
White blood cells are made within the bone marrow, but it's in the thymus where they enter their final forms, becoming T cells that keep infections
and cancer at bay.
The thymus starts to degrade with age and as levels of human growth hormone fall.
Previous research in animals suggested that giving people supplemental growth hormone might protect and restore the thymus.
So Dr Horvath's collaborator, immunologist and co-founder of Intervene Immune, Dr Gregory Fahy, recruited nine white men between the ages
of 51 and 65 to take the growth hormone DHEA.
Dr Fahy had actually experimented with the possibility of using DHEA to rejuvenate the thymus - on himself, in the 1990s.
Since unusually high levels of DHEA may trigger diabetes, the men in the trial were also given the two diabetes drugs.
Over the course of the year they were involved in the study, their thymus tissue was regularly tested.
By the end of the trial, seven of the participants thymuses had shed disruptive fat from the gland, and healthy thymus tissue had regrown in its place.
Dr Horvath happened to ask if he could analyse the men’s' epigenetic markers of age.
Remarkably, all 10 participants had fewer methyl tags at the end of the study than they had in the beginning.
Biologically speaking, they appeared to have gotten 2.5 years younger.
'I'd expected to see slowing down of the clock, but not a reversal' Dr Horvath told Nature.
'That felt kind of futuristic.'
But, of course, there was no control group whose thymuses and epigenetic markers of age were being compared, and the sample was all white men,
so it's far from proof that ageing can be reversed.
It is, however a promising finding for follow-up research.