The ageing process has been biologically reversed for the first time by giving humans oxygen therapy in a pressurised chamber.
Scientists in Israel showed they could turn back the clock in two key areas of the body believed to be responsible for the frailty and ill-health that comes with growing older.
As people age, the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes – called telomeres – shorten, causing DNA to become damaged and cells to stop replicating. At the same time, “zombie” senescent cells build up in the body, preventing regeneration.
Increasing telemere length and getting rid of senescent cells is the focus of many anti-ageing studies, and drugs are being developed to target those areas.
Now scientists at Tel Aviv University have shown that giving pure oxygen to older people while in a hyperbaric chamber increased the length of their telomeres by 20 per cent, a feat that has never been achieved before.
Scientists said the growth may mean that the telomeres of trial participants were now as long as they had been 25 years earlier.
The therapy also reduced senescent cells by up to 37 per cent, making way for new healthy cells to regrow. Animal studies have shown that removing senescent cells extends remaining life by more than one third.
“Since telomere shortening is considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of the biology of ageing, many pharmacological and environmental interventions are being extensively explored in the hopes of enabling telomere elongation,” said Professor Shai Efrati of the Faculty of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University.
“The significant improvement of telomere length shown during and after these unique protocols provides the scientific community with a new foundation of understanding that ageing can indeed be targeted and reversed at the basic cellular-biological level.”
Many scientists now believe ageing itself is responsible for major conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
It is also known that obesity, smoking, lack of physical activity, vitamin deficiency and inflammation can speed up the shortening of telomeres, demonstrating that they have a major impact on longevity.