Nine volunteers, aged 51 to 65, took a cocktail containing three common drugs daily during the year. The study goal was to examine whether it is possible to regenerate the thymus and fortify the immune system, which tends to deteriorate as we age. The medicinal cocktail contained - growth hormone as well as two anti-diabetic drugs. Growth hormone was previously shown as a remedy for the thymus, but it can also contribute to the development of diabetes. Therefore, to protect the volunteers from diabetes the cocktail also contained anti-diabetic agents: DHEA and metformin.
As a result of this treatment, a blood test demonstrated that blood-cell count was rejuvenated in each of the participants. In seven of participants, the thymus fat tissue was replaced with regenerated thymus tissue.
The researchers were curious about the "epigenetic age" of the participants and the impact of the treatment on their aging. They measured the “epigenetic age” by measuring DNA methylation (DNA methylation clock) in DNA from their blood cells. To their surprise the found that not only the “epigenetic age” didn’t progress as fast as previously but that it was reversed by 2.5 years. In other words, the participants became two and a half years younger by this intervention.
This is the first case demonstrating the potential for reversibility of aging. It also demonstrates the value of DNA methylation clocks as serving as a measure of age and a call for change when the biological age accelerates. These preliminary data are based on only nine participants and require more in-depth study on a large number of people. Nevertheless, this discovery could potentially revolutionize the field of aging and open the window of opportunity for reversing aging.
We asked one of the pioneers of the field of Epigenetics, Prof. Moshe Szyf for comments on this revolutionary study: “The tremendous potential of “epigenetics” is the idea of reversibility. While genetic changes are irreversible, epigenetic changes are potentially reversible. This study shows that even the most permanent feature of life, “aging” is reversible and possibly driven by epigenetic mechanisms. It is possible that measuring our “epigenetic age” or DNA methylation clock will become in the future a common practice in our general health management. Epigenetic age tests might provide in the future a guide for our general health and call to action for interventions that could extend our lives. DNA methylation clocks could assess outcomes of these interventions and guide new and more potent interventions. “
Gregory M. Fahy et al. Agig Cell. "Reversal of epigenetic aging and immunosenescent trends in humans." doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-02638-w