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The ‘Benjamin Button’ effect: Scientists can reverse aging in mice. The goal is to do the same for humans.

(CNN)In molecular biologist David Sinclair’s lab at Harvard Medical School, old mice are growing young again.

Using proteins that can turn an adult cell into a stem cell, Sinclair and his team have reset aging cells in mice to earlier versions of themselves. In his team’s first breakthrough, published in late 2020, old mice with poor eyesight and damaged retinas could suddenly see again, with a vision that at times rivaled their offspring’s.

“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,” said Sinclair, who has spent the last 20 years studying ways to reverse the ravages of time.

“If we reverse aging, these diseases should not happen. 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.” Sinclair told an audience at Life Itself, a health and wellness event presented in partnership with CNN.

“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 lifetimes,” Sinclair told the audience.

A reset button

In Sinclair’s lab, two mice sit side by side. One is the picture of youth, the other gray and feeble. Yet they are brother and sister, born from the same litter — only one has been genetically altered to age faster.

If that could be done, Sinclair asked his team, could the reverse be accomplished as well? Japanese biomedical researcher Dr. Shinya Yamanaka had already reprogrammed human adult skin cells to behave like embryonic or pluripotent stem cells, capable of developing into any cell in the body. The 2007 discovery won the scientist a Nobel Prize, and his “induced pluripotent stem cells,” soon became known as “Yamanaka factors.”


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