New research published in the journal BMC Cell Biology shows old human cells can be rejuvenated using chemicals similar to resveratrol – a substance found in peanuts, grapes, red wine, dark chocolate and some berries.

UK researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Brighton, led by Professor Lorna Harries and Dr Eva Latorre, built on previous research from the University of Exeter, which found so-called ‘splicing factors’ (a type of protein) tend to become inactive as we age.

In the new study, the team added ‘resveralogues’ (chemicals similar to resveratrol) to ageing human cells and found ‘they reactivated these splicing factors’. This not only ‘made the old cells appear younger, but they also started dividing again, as young cells would’.

Dr Latorre declared: ‘When I saw some of the cells in the culture dish rejuvenating I couldn’t believe it. These old cells were looking like young cells. It was like magic. I repeated the experiments several times and, in each case, the cells rejuvenated.’

To understand the context of the new findings, Professor Harries explained to Medical News Today how ‘mRNA splicing’ works.

She said: ‘The information in our genes is carried in our DNA. Every cell in the body carries the same genes, but not every gene is switched on in every cell. That’s one of the things that makes a kidney cell a kidney cell and heart cell a heart cell.

‘When a gene is needed, it is switched on and makes an initial message called an RNA, that contains the instructions for whatever the gene makes. The interesting thing is that most genes can make more than one message.

‘The initial message is made up of building blocks that can be kept in or left out to make different messages.

This inclusion or removal of the building blocks is done by a process called mRNA splicing, whereby the different blocks are joined together as necessary.’

Professor Harries summed up: ‘It’s a bit like a recipe book, where you can make either a vanilla sponge or a chocolate cake, depending on whether or not you add chocolate!

‘We have previously found the proteins that make the decision as to whether a block is left in our taken out (these are called splicing factors) are the ones that change most as we age.’

Professor Harries said the new study’s findings demonstrate that when you treat old cells with molecules which restore the levels of the splicing factors, the ‘cells regain some features of youth. They are able to grow, and their telomeres — the caps on the ends of the chromosomes that shorten as we age — are now longer, as they are in young cells.’

Professor Harries said her team was ‘quite surprised by the magnitude of the findings’ and also noted the rejuvenating effects ‘lasted for weeks, which was also very exciting’.

And she explained, the discovery may soon improve the health span of seniors, because ‘this is a first step in trying to make people live normal lifespans, but with health, for their entire life.’

Sources: BMC Cell Biology and Medical News Today