A small trial study carried out in California has suggested that it might be possible to reverse the body's epigenetic clock — a measurement of our biological age.
A set of drugs could be used to have the Benjamin Button-style effect on patients.
The results even surprised the scientists working on the experiment, who emphasize caution over the findings. The study was carried out on a very small set of subjects with no control group.
Reversing aging a reality?
While we can't do anything about chronological age, the study says we might be able to turn back the clock on our "biological age."
"Epigenetic “clocks” can now surpass chronological age in accuracy for estimating biological age," the study claims. Epigenetic clocks, or "biological clocks," are measured by detecting changes to our DNA — chemical markers in our DNA change over time and can be used to take the measurement.
The study paper, which was published in Aging Cell, explains how nine healthy volunteers — all men aged between 51 and 65 years old — took a mixture of growth hormones, diabetes medication, and a hormone supplement as part of a drug trial.
Each of the subjects self-administered the drugs a few times a week for a year. At the end of the year, the researchers studied the volunteers' DNA. On inspection, it was found that 2.5 years had been removed from the volunteers' biological ages, on average.
Gaining back a year and a half of life
A full year had passed after the first DNA readings, so the subjects effectively gained back a year and a half of their lives.
"It has never been shown before that predicted biological age…can be reversed over time in the same individuals, and especially so after an intervention of this kind," Sara Hägg, a molecular epidemiologist at the Karolinska Institutet in Solna, Sweden, told Live Science.
The trial was originally aimed at reversing the shrinking of the thymus gland — another sign of aging. The results even surprised the researchers carrying out the test.
“I’d expected to see slowing down of the clock, but not a reversal,” says geneticist Steve Horvath at the University of California, Los Angeles, who conducted the epigenetic analysis, said in a press release.
“That felt kind of futuristic.”
However, the findings are far from being conclusive proof that we can reverse our biological age. “It may be that there is an effect,” says cell biologist Wolfgang Wagner at the University of Aachen in Germany. “But the results are not rock solid because the study is very small and not well controlled.”