If you’re wondering if there’s a way to turn back time and look like a wee young babe again, well, scientists are working on it. For the most part, you can only get things nipped, tucked, and chemically peeled.
But a research team in the Babraham Institute in Cambridge has done a dark magic and created a way to literally turn back time on your face—they have successfully rejuvenated a 53-year-old woman’s skin cells to look and “behave” like a 23-year-old’s. The research center announced their discovery on Thursday and I’m betting the waitlist is already a million people long.
The accomplishment is built on the work of Nobel Award winner Shinya Yamanaka, who was trying to get adult cells to work like embryonic stem cells. He first turned regular old cells into stem cells back in 2006. The BBC reports that German molecular biologist Wolf Reik, postdoctoral student Diljeet Gill, and their team at Babraham Institute have managed to speed up Yamanaka’s 50 day process and can get them to do it in 13.
The scientists were studying how collagen is produced in cells. Collagen is what keeps skin elastic and smooth and full, and we lose it rapidly as we age. The researchers took old skin cells and temporarily “removed their identity” but after a time they started being skin cells again. Only these skin cells now matched a much younger age profile.
“I remember the day I got the results back and I didn’t quite believe that some of the cells were 30 years younger than they were supposed to be,” Gill told BBC. “It was a very exciting day.”
So, sounds pretty exciting, right? Well, not so fast. Lasting genetic changes to your cells means an increased risk of cancer, which does not sound worth it. This won’t be a treatment that gets bottled and sprayed on your face anytime soon. In theory, though, the practice could be used to help burn victims heal more quickly and is clearly the start of a much more slippery slope to extending human life.
“Eventually, we may be able to identify genes that rejuvenate without reprogramming, and specifically target those to reduce the effects of aging,” Reik explained in a press release. Considering who will be able to afford genetic recoding to end aging, this is all pretty terrifying actually. At least it might stop tech bros from drinking youthful blood.