(RxWiki News) One of the primary reasons Ponce de Leon traveled thousands of miles to come to the "new world" was the pursuit of a fountain of youth. According to new research, at least a temporary fountain of youth can be found in a journey within.
Researchers have recently recognized a new mechanism that "retires" a proportion of white blood cells to a dormant state. These scientists also know how to reactivate and revitalize the dormant white cells. Because these cells have been dormant, they haven't aged with the rest of the body.
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Professor Arne Akbar of University College London explains that aging immune systems get progressively weaker because with every infection they fight, a portion of white blood cells deactivate. With age, the cells that have been retired increase. This makes immune defenses less effective.
Before now, it wasn't known that cells mechanically switch off. This ages the body. Akbar reports this research discovered how to wake these sleeping cells from their slumber and revitalize the immune system. He acknowledges permanent reactivation of the cells isn't a goal.
Akbar says that finding long telomeres on inactive cells is very exciting. Telomeres are end caps on DNA that normally get shorter with age. Once the telomeres become too short, the immune cell permanently deactivates. Long telomeres are associated with youth and health.
Akbar compares finding long telomeres on the DNA of dormant immune cells to discovering star football players who've retired at the height of their performance that are willing to return to the game. Almost a sure bet for performance.
Medications to activate these white cells are currently in development and being tested for use in other treatments. The next step is using this technique in older people so they can fight infections better.
Akbar warns this is not an eternal fountain of youth. There are evolutionary reasons why the body becomes less efficient in fighting diseases with age. This is a temporary rejuvenation for the immune system, not unlike a facial for skin improvement.
Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council reports that the body of research understanding cell biology is growing. This research has unearthed a new and exciting process involving the mechanism involved in aging immune systems.