Can the human aging process be reversed? Scientists claim to have done so in elderly adults in clinical trial

Treatments with high-pressure oxygen in a pressure chamber reversed two major processes associated with aging: the shortening of telomeres and the accumulation of old and malfunctioning cells in the body

                            Can the human aging process be reversed? Scientists claim to have done so in elderly adults in clinical trial
(Getty Images)

Scientists claim that they have successfully reversed the process of biological aging in a group of elderly adults. The team from Tel Aviv University (TAU) and the Shamir Medical Center in Israel explains that they used a form of oxygen therapy to reverse two key biological processes associated with aging in human cells: telomere length and senescent cells accumulation. 

As the human body gets older, it experiences the shortening of telomeres – protective regions located at both ends of every chromosome – and an increase in old and malfunctioning cells in the body. “Aging can be characterized by the progressive loss of physiological integrity, resulting in impaired functions and susceptibility for diseases and death. This biological deterioration is considered a major risk factor for cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease among others. At the cellular level, there are two key hallmarks of the aging process: shortening of telomere length and cellular senescence,” say experts.

The findings indicate that the hyperbaric oxygen treatments (HBOT) reversed the aging process in two of these major aspects: the telomeres at the ends of the chromosomes grew longer instead of shorter, at a rate of 20%-38% for the different cell types; and the percentage of senescent cells in the overall cell population was reduced significantly, by 11%-37% depending on cell type. This is the equivalent to how the bodies were at a cellular level 25 years earlier, the scientists reported. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment.

“Today telomere shortening is considered the ‘holy grail’ of the biology of aging. Researchers around the world are trying to develop pharmacological and environmental interventions that enable telomere elongation. Our HBOT protocol was able to achieve this, proving that the aging process can be reversed at the basic cellular-molecular level,” writes Professor Shai Efrati from the Sackler School of Medicine and the Sagol School of Neuroscience at TAU. 

The telomeres at the ends of the chromosomes grew longer instead of shorter, by up to 38%
(Getty Images)

Professor Efrati led the study along with Dr Amir Hadanny, chief medical research officer of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at the Shamir Medical Center. The findings have been published in the journal Aging.

The analysis

The clinical trial was conducted as part of a comprehensive Israeli research program that targets aging as a reversible condition. “For many years our team has been engaged in hyperbaric research and therapy - treatments based on protocols of exposure to high-pressure oxygen at various concentrations inside a pressure chamber. Our achievements over the years included the improvement of brain functions damaged by age, stroke or brain injury,” says Professor Efrati, who is the founder and director of the Sagol Center of Hyperbaric Medicine. He adds, “In the current study we wished to examine the impact of HBOT on healthy and independent aging adults, and to discover whether such treatments can slow down, stop or even reverse the normal aging process at the cellular level.”

The investigators exposed 35 healthy individuals aged 64 or over to a series of 60 hyperbaric sessions over 90 days. During the three-month study period, they sat in a pressurized chamber for 90 minutes, five days a week. Each participant provided blood samples before, during, and at the end of the treatments as well as some time after the series of treatments concluded. The authors then analyzed various immune cells in the blood and compared the results. 

The results indicate that hyperbaric oxygen treatments in healthy aging adults can stop the aging of blood cells and reverse the aging process, the investigators argue. In the biological sense, the adults’ blood cells grow younger as the treatments progress, they explain. 

“Until now, interventions such as lifestyle modifications and intense exercise were shown to have some inhibiting effect on telomere shortening. But in our study, only three months of HBOT were able to elongate telomeres at rates far beyond any currently available interventions or lifestyle modifications. With this pioneering study, we have opened a door for further research on the cellular impact of HBOT and its potential for reversing the aging process,” emphasizes Dr Hadanny. 

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