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Has a Small Trial Stumbled upon a Way to Reverse Biological Aging?
Published Thursday 12 September 2019 By Maria Cohut
Fact checked by Paula Field
In a small clinical trial, scientists were looking for a means to restore the thymus — the gland that forms and releases key immune cells. By doing so, they actually managed to reverse various aspects of biological aging.
A three-pronged intervention demonstrates it may be possible to reverse biological aging.
The thymus gland, located between the lungs, is the organ within which T cells — a critical population of immune cells — mature.
This gland also has a peculiarity. After a person reaches puberty, it begins a process of involution, which means that it becomes less and less active and starts to shrink in size gradually.
Studies have shown that thymic involution affects the size of immune cell populations related to it, possibly causing changes to biological mechanisms when people reach their 60s.
Prof. Steve Horvath from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Public Health and colleagues initially set out to see if they could restore function in the aging thymus.
In the study paper they recently published in the journal Aging Cell, they explain that "thymic involution leads to the depletion of critical immune cell populations, [...] and is linked to age‐related increases in cancer incidence, infectious disease, autoimmune conditions, generalized inflammation, atherosclerosis, and all‐cause mortality."
For the reasons outlined above, the researchers organized and conducted what they believe is a first-of-its-kind clinical trial: TRIIM (Thymus Regeneration, Immunorestoration, and Insulin Mitigation).
The study took place between 2015–2017, and the researchers were pleased with the results they achieved. They found that it was possible to restore thymic function and reduce the risk of age-related conditions and diseases linked to poor immune system reaction.
They also had a pleasant surprise. At the end of the trial, the researchers found that the mix of drugs they used to restore the thymus gland had also reversed other aspects of biological aging.