Two teams of scientists have recently published research suggesting that a cocktail of proteins known as Yamanaka factors, which were first discovered a decade ago by Kyoto University biologist Shinya Yamanaka, may have the ability to reverse the aging process in animals. One group at a biotech company used gene therapy to deliver Yamanaka factors into old mice and found that it modestly extended their life span. A separate team followed a similar strategy and found that they were able to reverse aging-like changes in genetically engineered mice.
Both studies suggest that the Yamanaka factors appear to have restored part of the animals’ epigenome, chemical modifications on DNA and proteins that help regulate gene activity, to a more youthful state. However, scientists not involved in the work have said that suggestions of age reversal are premature. They caution that while the studies use reprogramming factors to reverse epigenetic changes that happen during aging, this is a far cry from making an old animal young again.
Despite these concerns, both teams want to move their work towards the clinic. The biotech company is examining the mechanisms underlying the treatment’s action and tweaking its delivery and composition, while the team led by Harvard Medical School geneticist David Sinclair is already testing AAV-delivered OSK in the eyes of monkeys. While more research is needed to confirm these initial findings, the potential for Yamanaka factors to reverse the aging process in animals is certainly an exciting development in the field of aging research.