Old mice grow young again in study. Can people do the same? (2023)

Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes

BOSTON — In a laboratory experiment, old, blind mice have regained their eyesight, developed smarter, younger brains and built healthier muscle and kidney tissue. On the flip side, young mice have prematurely aged, with devastating results to nearly every tissue in their bodies.

The experiments show aging is a reversible process, capable of being driven "forwards and backwards at will," said anti-aging expert David Sinclair, a professor of genetics in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School and codirector of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research.

Our bodies hold a backup copy of our youth that can be triggered to regenerate, said Sinclair, the senior author of a new paper showcasing the work of his lab and international scientists.

The combined experiments, published for the first time Thursday in the journal Cell, challenge the scientific belief aging is the result of genetic mutations that undermine our DNA, creating a junkyard of damaged cellular tissue that can lead to deterioration, disease and death.

"It's not junk, it's not damage that causes us to get old," said Sinclair, who described the work last year at Life Itself, a health and wellness event presented in partnership with CNN.

"We believe it's a loss of information — a loss in the cell's ability to read its original DNA so it forgets how to function — in much the same way an old computer may develop corrupted software. I call it the information theory of aging."

Jae-Hyun Yang, a genetics research fellow in the Sinclair Lab who coauthored the paper, said he expects the findings "will transform the way we view the process of aging and the way we approach the treatment of diseases associated with aging."

Epigenetic changes control aging

While DNA can be viewed as the body's hardware, the epigenome is the software. Epigenes are proteins and chemicals that sit like freckles on each gene, waiting to tell the gene "what to do, where to do it, and when to do it," according to the National Human Genome Research Institute.

The epigenome literally turns genes on and off. That process can be triggered by pollution, environmental toxins and human behaviors such as smoking, eating an inflammatory diet or suffering a chronic lack of sleep. And just like a computer, the cellular process becomes corrupted as more DNA is broken or damaged, Sinclair said.

"The cell panics, and proteins that normally would control the genes get distracted by having to go and repair the DNA," he explained. "Then they don't all find their way back to where they started, so over time it's like a Ping-Pong match, where the balls end up all over the floor."

In other words, the cellular pieces lose their way home, much like a person with Alzheimer's.

"The astonishing finding is that there's a backup copy of the software in the body that you can reset," Sinclair said. "We're showing why that software gets corrupted and how we can reboot the system by tapping into a reset switch that restores the cell's ability to read the genome correctly again, as if it was young."

It doesn't matter if the body is 50 or 75, healthy or wracked with disease, Sinclair said. Once that process has been triggered, "the body will then remember how to regenerate and will be young again, even if you're already old and have an illness. Now, what that software is, we don't know yet. At this point, we just know that we can flip the switch."

Every day counts. How you live your life even when you're in your teens and 20s really matters, even decades later, because every day your clock is ticking.

– Anti-aging expert David Sinclair

Years of research

The hunt for the switch began when Sinclair was a graduate student, part of a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that discovered the existence of genes to control aging in yeast. That gene exists in all creatures, so there should be a way to do the same in people, he surmised.

To test the theory, he began trying to fast-forward aging in mice without causing mutations or cancer.

"We started making that mouse when I was 39 years old. I'm now 53, and we've been studying that mouse ever since," he said. "If the theory of information aging was wrong, then we would get either a dead mouse, a normal mouse, an aging mouse or a mouse that had cancer. We got aging."

With the help of other scientists, Sinclair and his Harvard team have been able to age tissues in the brain, eyes, muscle, skin and kidneys of mice.

To do this, Sinclair's team developed ICE, short for inducible changes to the epigenome. Instead of altering the coding sections of the mice's DNA that can trigger mutations, ICE alters the way DNA is folded. The temporary, fast-healing cuts made by ICE mimic the daily damage from chemicals, sunlight and the like that contribute to aging.

ICE mice at one year looked and acted twice their age.

Becoming young again

Now it was time to reverse the process. Sinclair Lab geneticist Yuancheng Lu created a mixture of three of four "Yamanaka factors," human adult skin cells that have been reprogrammed to behave like embryonic or pluripotent stem cells, capable of developing into any cell in the body.

The cocktail was injected into damaged retinal ganglion cells at the back of the eyes of blind mice and switched on by feeding mice antibiotics.

"The antibiotic is just a tool. It could be any chemical really, just a way to be sure the three genes are switched on," Sinclair told CNN previously. "Normally they are only on in very young, developing embryos and then turn off as we age."

The mice regained most of their eyesight.

Next, the team tackled brain, muscle and kidney cells, and restored those to much younger levels, according to the study.

"One of our breakthroughs was to realize that if you use this particular set of three pluripotent stem cells, the mice don't go back to age zero, which would cause cancer or worse," Sinclair said. "Instead, the cells go back to between 50% and 75% of the original age, and they stop and don't get any younger, which is lucky. How the cells know to do that, we don't yet understand."

'Every day counts'

Today, Sinclair's team is trying to find a way to deliver the genetic switch evenly to each cell, thus rejuvenating the entire mouse at once.

"Delivery is a technical hurdle, but other groups seem to have done well," Sinclair said, pointing to two unpublished studies that appear to have overcome the problem.

"One uses the same system we developed to treat very old mice, the equivalent of an 80-year-old human. And they still got the mice to live longer, which is remarkable. So they've kind of beaten us to the punch in that experiment," he said.

"But that says to me the rejuvenation is not just affecting a few organs, it's able to rejuvenate the whole mouse because they're living longer," he added. "The results are a gift and confirmation of what our paper is saying."

What's next? Billions of dollars are being poured into anti-aging, funding all sorts of methods to turn back the clock.

In his lab, Sinclair said his team has reset the cells in mice multiple times, showing that aging can be reversed more than once, and he is currently testing the genetic reset in primates. But decades could pass before any anti-aging clinical trials in humans begin, get analyzed and, if safe and successful, scaled to the mass needed for federal approval.

But just as damaging factors can disrupt the epigenome, healthy behaviors can repair it, Sinclair said.

"We know this is probably true because people who have lived a healthy lifestyle have less biological age than those who have done the opposite," he said.

His top tips? Focus on plants for food, eat less often, get sufficient sleep, lose your breath for 10 minutes three times a week by exercising to maintain your muscle mass, don't sweat the small stuff and have a good social group.

"The message is every day counts," Sinclair said. "How you live your life even when you're in your teens and 20s really matters, even decades later, because every day your clock is ticking."

×Old mice grow young again in study. Can people do the same? (1)

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    Can we reverse aging in mice? ›

    Several groups had already found genetically engineered mice that begin expressing Yamanaka factors in adulthood show reversal of certain aging symptoms.

    How did scientists reverse aging in mice? ›

    A recent study published in the journal Cell found that by making DNA repairs on mice, scientists were able to drive age "forward and backward" thus manipulating the aging process.

    What did researchers show about blood from a young mouse can rejuvenate an old mouse's muscles and brain? ›

    After combining the blood circulations of two mice by conjoining them — one old, the other young — researchers found dramatic improvements in the older mouse's muscle and brain. After four weeks, stem cells in both those areas got a boost of activity and were better able to produce neurons and muscle tissue.

    Why are mice a good experimental model for studying aging? ›

    Mice are an ideal mammalian model for studying the genetics of aging: considerable resources are available, the generation time is short, and the environment can be easily controlled, an important consideration when performing mapping studies to identify genes that influence lifespan and age-related diseases.

    What foods reverse aging? ›

    Here are 10 of the best anti-aging foods to nourish your body for a glow that comes from within.
    • Watercress. The health benefits of watercress don't disappoint! ...
    • Red bell pepper. Red bell peppers are loaded with antioxidants which reign supreme when it comes to anti-aging. ...
    • Papaya. ...
    • Blueberries. ...
    • Broccoli. ...
    • Spinach. ...
    • Nuts. ...
    • Avocado.
    May 5, 2018

    How do you slow down aging mice? ›

    Rapamycin has been shown to extend lifespan of both male and female mice, when started at 9 or at 20 months of age. At the highest doses of rapamycin tested so far, male mice live 23% longer, and female mice life 26% longer than ordinary control mice.

    Will humans be able to live forever? ›

    While the population can expect to live longer lives on average, the human lifespan might have a cap. Scientists believe that the human lifespan could be anywhere from 120-150 years long, but not longer than that, due to accumulating hallmarks of aging and chronic disease.

    Can I reverse the aging process? ›

    Is it possible to reverse aging? You cannot wholly reverse aging—it's a normal part of life. However, you may be able to slow it down and help prevent age-related diseases by adopting a healthy lifestyle. That includes habits like eating a healthy diet, wearing sunscreen every day, and exercising (Shanbhag, 2019).

    Can we slow down aging? ›

    Many researchers have tried to find out whether the speed of the biological aging process can be slowed down, according to Loge Nilsen. “Our study shows that we can actually flatten the curve for the speed of aging,” the researcher says.

    Why do scientists genetically modify mice to mimic human diseases? ›

    Mice are the model of choice not just because they are strikingly similar to humans at the genomic level, but also because the pathophysiology of disease in mice is similar to that of humans. Mice are a cost-effective and efficient tool to speed research and drug testing.

    Does young blood reverse aging? ›

    The findings reveal that young blood seems to restore gene expression patterns to a more youthful state, and that different cell types change in different ways. The results point to potential targets for intervention that could help people retain cognitive function into older age or combat aging-related diseases.

    How much DNA do humans share with mice? ›

    Mice and humans share approximately 70 percent of the same protein-coding gene sequences, though these genes constitute just 1.5 percent of their respective genomes.

    How old should mice be for experiments? ›

    Mice should be at least 10 months old for inclusion in a middle age group and the upper age limit is about 14 - 15 months. This phase correlates to humans from 38 - 47 years old. Mice ranging from 18 - 24 months of age correlate with humans ranging from 56 - 69 years of age.

    How much DNA do humans share with rats? ›

    Our feline friends share 90% of homologous genes with us, with dogs it is 82%, 80% with cows, 69% with rats and 67% with mice [1]. Human and chimpanzee DNA is so similar because the two species are so closely related.

    What to drink to stop aging? ›

    6 anti-ageing drinks that you should be sipping
    • Water. Let's start with the obvious one: water. ...
    • Grapefruit juice. Start off your mornings with a refreshing glass of pink grapefruit juice. ...
    • Green tea. ...
    • Beetroot juice. ...
    • Milk. ...
    • Cocoa.
    Feb 12, 2020

    What to drink to slow down aging? ›

    Four Best Anti-Aging Drinks
    • Green smoothies – Start with wheatgrass or something with plenty of chlorophyll. ...
    • Green or White tea – Both of these teas contain catechins, which is great if you are trying to fight signs of age. ...
    • Red wine – Who doesn't enjoy a glass of red wine at the end of the day?

    What foods age your face? ›

    5 popular foods that can contribute to early skin ageing
    • Sugar. Sugar is infamous for elevating the AGE process (advanced glycation). ...
    • Processed foods. ...
    • Fried foods. ...
    • Aerated beverages. ...
    • Dairy.
    Sep 10, 2020

    What gets rid of mice the fastest? ›


    Trapping is the fastest way to get rid of mice. While live traps catch mice and allow you to release them, other traps kill the mice on contact, making quick work of mouse populations.

    How old can mice survive on their own? ›

    Mice are typically weaned from their mother between 21 and 28 days of age, or at 10 grams of body weight.

    What season do mice go away? ›

    This can be anywhere from August to late October in the United States. Once it cools off hoards of vermin will begin their search for warmer spaces where they can hunker down for winter. As the weather cools, mice and rats look for the most appealing and warmest spots to weather the winter months.

    Is immortality possible yet? ›

    No matter how advanced technology gets, it might be impossible for our bodies to go on forever. Some researchers believe there's a limit on how long it's physically possible to live: perhaps 125 years. But what if we don't need our bodies at all?

    Can a person live to be 200 years old? ›

    Humans' life expectancy (average) is 70-85 years. However, the oldest verified person (Jeanne Clement, 1875-1997) lived up to 122 years. As a person ages, the telomeres (chromosome ends) tend to become shorter in every consecutive cycle of replication.

    Who is the scientist to reverse aging? ›

    These genes came from the suite of so-called Yamanaka stem cells factors—a set of four genes that Nobel scientist Shinya Yamanaka in 2006 discovered can turn back the clock on adult cells to their embryonic, stem cell state so they can start their development, or differentiation process, all over again.

    Why am I aging so fast all of a sudden? ›

    This is called extrinsic aging. As a result, premature aging can set in long before it was expected. In other words, your biological clock is more advanced than your chronological clock. Controllable factors such as stress, smoking and sun exposure can all play a role in expediting extrinsic aging.

    What is the main cause of aging? ›

    Aging is likely caused by a combination of reasons. Some theories suggest cells have a predetermined lifespan, while others claim it's caused by error and damage. Other theories say that aging is due to genetic, evolution, or biochemical reactions.

    What slows signs of aging? ›

    11 ways to reduce premature skin aging
    • Protect your skin from the sun every day. ...
    • Apply self-tanner rather than get a tan. ...
    • If you smoke, stop. ...
    • Avoid repetitive facial expressions. ...
    • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. ...
    • Drink less alcohol. ...
    • Exercise most days of the week. ...
    • Cleanse your skin gently.
    Feb 24, 2021

    Can humans genetically modify animals? ›

    Thanks to this technology, scientists can precisely transfer beneficial genes from one animal species to another. What animals are being genetically engineered? In research studies, animals that have been safely genetically engineered (GE) include cattle, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, dogs, cats, fish, rats, and mice.

    Why humans are not used for genetic studies? ›

    Except in the case of highly controlled and regulated clinical trials, geneticists and scientists do not use humans for their experimental investigations because of the obvious risk to life. Instead, they use various animal, fungal, bacterial, and plant species as model organisms for their studies.

    Can scientists genetically modify humans? ›

    Human genome editing technologies can be used on somatic cells (non-heritable), germline cells (not for reproduction) and germline cells (for reproduction). Application of somatic human genome editing has already been undertaken, including in vivo editing, to address HIV and sickle-cell disease, for example.

    Does drinking blood make you look younger? ›

    That led to the idea that there's something circulating in the blood that is associated with age that you can make you younger or older, depending on which direction it goes.” However, these fountain-of-youth medical treatment claims “have virtually no basis in reality,” Goodell said.

    How can I reverse my biological age and feel younger? ›

    Reduce your stress

    And stress is like gasoline on the fire of aging. But, research also shows that reversing that stress like engaging in meditation or maybe yoga or tai chi – have really good effects on our genetic expression like contributing to that biologically younger profile."

    Do older people have thicker blood? ›

    Blood: The blood itself changes slightly with age. Normal aging causes a reduction in total body water. As part of this, there is less fluid in the bloodstream, so blood volume decreases.

    Is peanut butter good for mice? ›

    Peanut butter or cheese could be effective as bait for mice. Finding out what they are currently feeding on is usually a better option. If you are having a rodent issue, be sure to pay attention to what they are getting into and eating around your home or business.

    Will a mother mouse come back for babies if you touch them? ›

    Rodents are excellent mothers and will come back for their babies if you give them a chance. Once a nest is discovered or disturbed, they will often move the babies to a safer location.

    Can baby mice drink water? ›

    Mice usually drink 3-7 ml of water per day. Hang a small animal water bottle in the cage, and keep it filled. Before weaning, the mice were getting water from their food. Once they begin to eat dry food, the water bottle is necessary.

    What is the most human like animal? ›

    The chimpanzee and bonobo are humans' closest living relatives. These three species look alike in many ways, both in body and behavior. But for a clear understanding of how closely they are related, scientists compare their DNA, an essential molecule that's the instruction manual for building each species.

    What animal is closest to humans genetically? ›

    Ever since researchers sequenced the chimp genome in 2005, they have known that humans share about 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees, making them our closest living relatives.

    What animal brain is closest to humans? ›

    eLife digest

    The human brain is about three times as big as the brain of our closest living relative, the chimpanzee.

    How many mice is good for a study? ›

    Most of the time, the sample size is taken for granted, and most scientists use ten mice per group as a rule of thumb. But scientists should consider determining the sample size for each study based on a scientific rationale.

    Is it ethical to perform experiments on mice? ›

    Against animal experiments:

    Experimenting on animals is always unacceptable because: it causes suffering to animals. the benefits to human beings are not proven. any benefits to human beings that animal testing does provide could be produced in other ways.

    Why mice are tested for humans? ›

    The mouse has many similarities to humans in terms of anatomy, physiology and genetics. The mouse genome is very similar to our own, making mouse genetic research particularly useful for the study of human diseases.

    Are humans 99.9 percent the same? ›

    Humans are 99.9% identical on a genetic level. The 0.1% difference is caused by insertions, deletions and substitutions in the DNA sequence. These substitutions are known as Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs). They occur about every 1000 base pairs.

    How much DNA do humans share with lettuce? ›

    More startling is an even newer discovery: we share 99% of our DNA with lettuce. This could have startling philosophical, scientific and medical implications.

    What do rats think of humans? ›

    What do rats think of humans? Rats love seeing kind people and will often bounce around waiting to be noticed and picked up. Rats can bond with their human companions to the point that if they are suddenly given away to someone else or forgotten, they can pine away—and even die.

    Is it biologically possible to reverse aging? ›

    It definitely sounds too good to be true, but new research shows that we can in fact reverse biological aging with diet and lifestyle. In 2021, researchers published the results of a pilot randomized clinical trial which demonstrated that the reversal of biological age is possible and was verified by objective results.

    Does anything reverse aging? ›

    Is it possible to reverse aging? You cannot wholly reverse aging—it's a normal part of life. However, you may be able to slow it down and help prevent age-related diseases by adopting a healthy lifestyle. That includes habits like eating a healthy diet, wearing sunscreen every day, and exercising (Shanbhag, 2019).

    Can gene editing reverse aging? ›

    “Editing” our Human Genome In Vivo

    As we age, genes that maintain cellular health and vitality are down-regulated. At the same time, genes that promote disease and senescence become over-expressed. Once physicians are able to precisely program or “edit” DNA genes, then youthful health may be systemically restored.

    Can aged skin reversed? ›

    Some skin changes, such as fine wrinkles from sun damage, may be reversed by treatment with retinoic acid. This treatment can also improve your skin's texture, reduce discoloration and increase collagen. Other effects of aging aren't reversible. But they may be treatable.

    What is the human age limit? ›

    Although average human life expectancy is rising, the maximum lifespan is not increasing. Leading demographers claim that human lifespan is fixed at a natural limit around 122 years.

    Does milk accelerate aging? ›

    Besides stimulating pro-aging growth pathways, milk can speed up aging in other ways. For example, milk contains galactose (not to be confused with lactose). Galactose is a milk sugar that accelerates aging.

    What makes you age slower? ›

    Findings from a few studies suggest that eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables may help prevent damage that leads to premature skin aging. Findings from research studies also suggest that a diet containing lots of sugar or other refined carbohydrates can accelerate aging. Drink less alcohol.

    Can humans edit their own genes? ›

    Human genome editing technologies can be used on somatic cells (non-heritable), germline cells (not for reproduction) and germline cells (for reproduction). Application of somatic human genome editing has already been undertaken, including in vivo editing, to address HIV and sickle-cell disease, for example.

    Can adults be gene edited? ›

    Scientists at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Oregon have performed the first-ever CRISPR gene editing procedure for a living person. This procedure was undertaken to address a blindness-causing gene mutation, and the goal is to restore vision to a patient with congenital blindness.

    Can CRISPR stop or reverse aging? ›

    CRISPR in Aging Research

    A significant part of aging is controlled by so called master genes. If the activity of such genes can now be intentionally controlled through the means of CRISPR tools, then slowing down or even reversing the aging process is theoretically possible.

    Does coffee age your skin? ›

    Caffeine can cause your blood vessels to constrict, and as a result, the vessels at the surface of your skin won't deliver as many antioxidants and nutrients to promote collagen production. "The results of drinking too much coffee can cause the skin to wrinkle prematurely, and become more lax with time," says Dr.

    What makes a woman look younger? ›

    Drinking enough water each day replenishes your skin's tissue and cells, allowing for younger and healthier looking skin. Another key to maintaining a youthful appearance is to simply get some rest! When you sleep, your body continuously releases hormones that promote cell turnover and renewal.

    How can I moisturize my 60 year old skin? ›

    Here's what you can do: Wash with a gentle, fragrance-free, moisturizing bar soap, cleanser, or body wash. Doing so will help soothe rather than dry your skin. Moisturizing ingredients that can help reduce dryness include glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and lanolin.


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