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Are we on the path to reversing ageing?

Ageing is inevitable – or is it?

We know we can manage the impact of ageing by focusing on diet and lifestyle, and mask its ravages with cosmetic surgery and makeup, but we all succumb in the end.

However, a new study may be the first indication that the inescapable march of ageing may not be set in stone and, in fact, our bodies hold a backup copy of our youth that could be triggered to regenerate.

Previous thought was that the longer you live, the more damaged your DNA becomes and as a result you age. But an experiment carried out in 1962 has finally rewarded scientists.

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In that experiment, DNA extracted from a frog egg was extracted and replaced with DNA from a mature cell. What they expected was the egg would produce an old frog, but it didn’t, the frogs that hatched were all perfectly normal.

So if it wasn’t the DNA causing ageing, what was it? It would take another 60 years to get close to working it out.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian scientist working at Harvard Medical School has a leading role in the search to ‘cure’ ageing.

Following a study published in the medical portal Cell, study co-author and Australian biologist, Professor of genetics David Sinclair says it’s not DNA damage that causes us to age.

“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,” Prof. Sinclair told CNN Health.

“I call it the information theory of ageing.”

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The key to all of this is epigenomes, which are chemical compounds that tell the genome – the entire set of DNA instructions found in a cell – what to do.

In layman’s terms, CNN Health says if DNA can be viewed as the body’s hardware, the epigenome is the software, waiting to tell the gene what to do, literally turning genes on or off.

That process can be triggered by pollution, environmental toxins and other behaviours such as drinking and smoking, which damages DNA.

Co-author of the paper, Jae-Hyun Yang, says that as a result the cell “panics” and proteins that normally control the genes get distracted by having to repair the DNA.

“Then they don’t all find their way back to where they started and over time it’s like a ping-pong match, where balls end up all over the floor,” he says.

Prof. Sinclair says they have now discovered a backup copy of the software in the body that can reset that process.

“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,” he says.

However, the bad news is that they are still working out how to trigger that process.

“What that ‘software’ is we don’t know yet. At this point, we just know that we can flip the switch,” Prof. Sinclair says.

The scientists have had success partially turning back the clock on multiple organs, including the eyes of mice.

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“In the case of the eye, there is the misconception that you need to regrow new nerves. But in some cases, the existing cells are just not functioning, so if you reboot them, they are fine. It’s a new way to think about medicine,” Prof. Sinclair says.

“Underlying ageing is information that is lost in cells, not just the accumulation of damage. That’s a paradigm shift in how to think about ageing.”

Sadly, while the research may soon be applied to help repair tissue damage, reversing the overall ageing process is a long way off.

Prof. Sinclair says the recommended advice to live a healthy lifestyle is still the best pathway to ageing well.

“People who have lived a healthy lifestyle have less biological age than those who have done the opposite,” he says.

How are you taking care of yourself while you age? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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