The dermis and epidermis of the scalp.
- The Babraham Institute in Cambridge announced this week that researchers have succeeded in rejuvenating skin cells.
- Scientists reprogrammed adult skin cells to look and behave 30 years younger than the original.
- The technique cannot yet be used in a clinic because previous studies have shown it may increase the risk of cancer.
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A team from the Babraham Institute in Cambridge has succeeded in rejuvenating the skin cells of a 53-year-old woman to look and behave like those of a 23-year-old woman, the research center announced on Thursday.
The team initially set out to create embryonic stem cells, which can divide into any type of cell in the body, using adult cells. Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka, a researcher at Kyoto University in Japan, first turned “normal” cells that have a specific function into stem cells in 2006.
The BBC reported that German molecular biologist Wolf Reik, postdoctoral student Diljeet Gill and a team from the Babraham Institute built on Yamanaka’s work. Yamanaka cultured stem cells by exposing adult cells to four molecules for about 50 days – a unique method he named iPS. Reik and Gill’s team exposed skin cells to the same molecules for just 13 days, then left them to grow under natural conditions.
By studying collagen production in cells, researchers found that age-related changes to skin cells were suppressed and they temporarily lost their identity. After growing under normal conditions for a while, the researchers found that the cells began to behave like skin cells again.
The team then measured age-related biological changes in the reprogrammed cells and found that the cells matched the profile of those 30 years younger than the reference data sets, Gill said in a statement.
“I remember the day I got the results and I didn’t really believe some of the cells were 30 years younger than they were supposed to be,” Gill told the BBC. “It was a very exciting day.”
The research was carried out in a laboratory and Reik told the BBC the team could not bring the technique to a clinic because the technique used to rejuvenate cells has the potential to increase cancer risk, possibly due of creating lasting genetic changes in cells.
But the biologist said the cell rejuvenation method could help speed healing time in burn victims and could potentially extend human life.
“Eventually, we may be able to identify genes that rejuvenate without reprogramming, and specifically target those that reduce the effects of aging,” Reik said in a press release.
The researchers published their findings in the journal eLife on April 8.