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LIFEMAG Original

5 treatments with the potential to fight aging

by Rachel Hughes Published on 22nd Oct 2015

by Rachel Hughes Published on 22nd October 2015

A definitive cure for aging and age-related disease continues to elude us, yet almost on a daily basis scientists throughout the world are making new exciting discoveries. Whether targeting specific diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancer, or heart and liver conditions brought on and exacerbated by the aging process, a range of potential treatments have emerged in the last year particularly with the potential to increase healthy human lifespan.

Stem Cells

Regenerative medicine is perhaps the most long-standing of all potential anti-aging treatments, and is based around the idea that by treating damaged, malfunctioning and dying specialised cells, with lab-grown stem cells, they will be able to rejuvenate each part of the body.

Scientists throughout the world have been taking varying steps in stem cell research and have made slow but promising progress, however, in the last twelve months there has been a surge in activity. Most recently, scientists in Australia were able to grow kidney tissue from the stem cells found in human skin; whilst British doctors may have also found a potential cure for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), using a stem cell from a human embryo and cultivating new cells in a laboratory.

These steps forward are profound in their achievement and expose the great potential of stem cell research, with the ultimate possibility being that eventually we could treat all age-related diseases using stem cells, including aging itself.

Find out more here: ‘Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine’

Bioprinting

Literally hundreds of thousands of lives are lost in the US alone each year when no suitable donor can be found for failing organs. And even if a transplant is successful initially, there is no guarantee that it won’t then be rejected by the body further down the line. Medication can lessen the likelihood of rejection, but it is expensive. As lifespans lengthen, more people require life-saving transplants, and what is already becoming a crisis is only expected to worsen.

As a result, bioprinting organs has thus emerged as a method of delivering safe, reliable transplants to patients in need. “3-D printing of organ tissue, or bioprinting, works by arranging the body’s own cell lines along three-dimensional structures to produce functional organs. There is no risk of rejection, and thus no risk of costly anti-rejection treatment.”

Many obstacles prevent this field from being fully realized. Human organs present a variety of highly specific cell types that are hard to mimic. Pancreas and liver cells, for example, are highly complex and notoriously difficult to grow outside of the human body.  However, with enough fine-tuning, the reliable, standardized production offered by bioprinting seems to hold the most promise.  

Find out more here: ‘Can bioprinting solve the US organ crisis’

Xenotransplantation

As some predict that 3D printed organs are still a few decades off, scientists are also working on another potential way to harvest the organs we need. Since the 1950s scientists have been trying to use animals such as chimpanzees and pigs to harvest organs and transplant them into humans, however the likelihood of rejection made it an ultimately fruitless pursuit. But recently, researchers have discovered that by genetically engineering the DNA of the host animal, namely pigs, they can lessen this risk.

Public and private advances are turning what once sounded like science fiction into a viable future for organ transplantation. Even if pig organs are unable to meet the needs of an entire human lifespan, they could serve as a “bridge” therapy to tide a patient over until a suitable human organ becomes available. As with any risky procedure, the benefits of receiving a pig organ transplant must be weighed against the dangers of infection, but targeted immune therapy and developments in genome editing may mean clinical trials are not so far off.

Thus, in the near future, it is possible that patients suffering from end-stage liver, lung, and heart failure will start receiving organ transplants from pigs.

Find out more here: ‘Pig organs may provide radical solution to organ shortage’

Parabiosis

According to a 2014 study conducted by the World Health Organisation, the number of dementia sufferers worldwide will likely increase by over 300% by 2050. However, increased research in parabiosis, the surgical union of two organisms, has presented a significant step forward in combating this terrible debilitating disorder. Parabiosis is the process of adding blood from a younger organism to an older organism, a process that has most commonly been tested on mice.

This intermingling of blood, which can now be performed through simple injection, has shown promising effects upon brain tissue. A study published in May 2014 by Nature Medicine, showed that older mice injected with young plasma performed better in behavioural tests. Some of the biological changes included a 20-50% increase in the neuroplasticity network.

The Wyss-Coray laboratory in Stanford have been leading the research in parabiosis, achieving several accolades for their work, including last year, where Science named their work as one of the top breakthroughs of the year. Human trials are now currently underway in the US, involving patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer's. Parabiosis is quickly becoming an important area of research, aiming to eradicate age related disorders such as dementia.
  

Find out more here: ‘Parabiosis: Treating the aged with young blood

CRISPR

But what if genetic disease, and the parts of our genome which make us more susceptible to contracting life-threatening conditions - particularly later in life - could be eradicated completely, even at birth?

CRISPR caS9 has emerged as a genuinely promising means of editing the human genome, administering a therapeutic transgene which allows for the cutting of DNA and literally removing and replacing the parts of our genetic makeup which lead directly to an early death.

Even an ongoing patent dispute between University of California and the MIT/Harvard Broad Institute looks unlikely to dampen enthusiasm for the process, or threaten the development of treatments using the technique.

In this vein, BioViva, a company that define “aging as a disease”, made the headlines last week after announcing that they had become the first company to administer anti-aging gene therapy on a human subject, their CEO Liz Parrish. This controversial step demonstrates the popularity and power of CRISPR, and other gene therapies, in the fight against aging.

Find out more here: ‘Now Trending: CRISPR’