Optic nerve cells have their base in the retina and long extensions to the brain. If they are damaged at an early age, they can recover. But later in life this is no longer possible. Cells lose that ability to recover. In fact, aging itself causes the optic nerve to function less well, which can lead to common conditions like glaucoma.
David Sinclair’s laboratory has now shown that this process can be reversed. Sinclair is an Australian affiliated with Harvard University in the United States who specializes in aging. In gerontology, it has been known for some time that a shift toward rejuvenation should be possible in principle. Aging causes some genetic information in DNA to become less useful; The tones of the piece are still the same, but less pronounced.
It is also known what factors make the difference between a young neuron that still recovers spontaneously and an old one that is no longer able to do so. It has to do with a limited number of genetic factors. Sinclair did not discover it, but it was discovered long ago by Japanese Shinya Yamanaka, who won the Nobel Prize in 2012.
With these Yamanaka agents you can restore cells to their youthful state. This is not without risks, because young cells can become anything and everything, including tumors. But researchers at Harvard University discovered that three of these factors were enough to restore visual neurons to their ability to regenerate without causing them to go off course.
Help from an innocent virus
Now you have to find a way to activate those genetic factors in the organism’s damaged optic nerve. To do this, the researchers enlisted the help of a harmless virus that was designed to operate buttons in the optic nerve. The result was a “spontaneous” recovery, not only in young mice whose optic nerves were damaged, but also in older animals whose optic nerves were frayed.
It remains to be seen whether this is also possible in humans. But in principle, this opens an opportunity to reverse cell aging that leads to vision loss. For Sinclair and his colleagues, the optic nerve is just a prototype. The mechanisms they look at also play elsewhere in the brain and nervous system.
This makes a commentator in a trade magazine nature“, in which this research emerges today with enthusiasm: “We have been saying for decades that if we understand normal neural development, we will also have the tools to repair the damaged or aging brain. This era has now come.
This group of geneticists in Rotterdam says they know what aging is
Geneticists in Rotterdam say they know what aging is all about: the failure to repair DNA damage. Initially, this theory was met with skepticism in the field of aging.
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