Rachel Fieldhouse


“Benjamin Button” mice could pave way for reverse ageing

“Benjamin Button” mice could pave way for reverse ageing

If the three blind mice from the iconic nursery rhyme were living in molecular biologist Dr David Sinclair’s lab at Harvard Medical School, they might not be blind for very long.

Dr Sinclair and his team at Harvard Medical School have been using proteins that can turn adult cells into stem cells - a kind of cell that can be turned into any of the specialised cells our bodies need.

These stem cells have been helping restore the sight of old mice with damaged retinas, essentially making them younger versions of themselves.

“It’s a permanent reset, as far as we can tell, and we think it may be a universal process that could be applied across the body to reset our age,” Dr Sinclair said about his research, which was published in late 2020.

The Australian scientist has spent the past 20 years studying ways to reverse the effects of ageing - including the diseases that can afflict us as we get older.

“If we reverse ageing, these diseases should not happen,” he said.

During a health and wellness talk at Life Itself, Dr Sinclair said the technology is available and it’s only a matter of when we decide to use it.

“We have the technology today to be able to go into your hundreds without worrying about getting cancer in your 70s, heart disease in your 80s and Alzheimer’s in your 90s,” he said.

“This is the world that is coming. It’s literally a question of when and for most of us, it’s going to happen in our lifetime.”

Whitney Casey, an investor who has partnered with Dr Sinclair to create a DIY biological age test, said the researcher wants to “make ageing a disease”.

“His research shows you can change ageing to make lives younger for longer,” she said.

Dr Sinclair said that when it comes to how modern medicine addresses sickness, it doesn’t tackle the underlying cause, which is usually “ageing itself”.

“We know that when we reverse the age of an organ like the brain in a mouse, the diseases of ageing then go away. Memory comes back, there is no more dementia,” he continued.

“I believe that in the future, delaying and reversing ageing will be the best way to treat the diseases that plague most of us.”

Dr Sinclair’s research comes amid a global effort by scientists working to reprogram adult cells into stem cells, started by Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka, who won a Nobel Prize for reprogramming adult skin cells into behaving like embryonic (or pluripotent) stem cells.

These “induced pluripotent stem cells” became known as “Yamanaka factors”, with later research finding that exposing cells to four of the main Yamanaka factors could remove signs of ageing.

Since their original study, where they discovered that damaged cells were able to be rejuvenated by injecting three of these factors into the eyes of mice, Dr Sinclair and his lab have reversed ageing in mouse brains and muscles, and are now working on a mouse’s whole body.

Dr Sinclair said their discovery indicated that there is a “back-up copy” of youthful information stored in the body, which he calls the “information theory of ageing”.

“It’s a loss of information that drives ageing cells to forget how to function, to forget what type of cell they are,” he revealed.

“And now we can tap into a reset switch that restores the cell’s ability to read the genome correctly again, as if it was young.”

Image: Getty Images

Our Partners