JERUSALEM, Israel – Initial results from an Israeli study on red blood cells reveals that scientists may have found a way to “reverse aging” in red blood cells.
Tel Aviv University Prof. Shai Efrati led the study. His team gave healthy aging adults high-pressure oxygen in a pressurized chamber 60 times for over the course of 90 days. By the end of the treatment, they observed two changes – a reversal of the shortening of telomeres (protective regions on at the end of each chromosome inside the cell), and a reversal in the accumulation of old and malfunctioning cells in the body.
The trial included 35 participants over the age of 64. They were given hyperbolic oxygen treatment (HBOT) 90 minutes at a time, five days a week for 90 days.
"Today telomere shortening is considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of the biology of aging. Researchers around the world are trying to develop pharmacological and environmental interventions that enable telomere elongation. Our HBOT protocol was able to achieve this, proving that the aging process can in fact be reversed at the basic cellular-molecular level,” Dr. Efrati said in a statement.
The treatment was found to make the telomeres grow instead of shrink. The telomeres grew at a rate of 20-38% and the percentage of old and malfunctioning cells went down by 11-37% depending on the cell type.
"Until now, interventions such as lifestyle modifications and intense exercise were shown to have some inhibiting effect on telomere shortening,” said Dr. Amir Hadanny, Chief Medical Research Officer of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at the Shamir Medical Center.
“But in our study, only three months of HBOT were able to elongate telomeres at rates far beyond any currently available interventions or lifestyle modifications. With this pioneering study, we have opened a door for further research on the cellular impact of HBOT and its potential for reversing the aging process,” he continued.
Prof. Efrati believes the results have implications beyond red blood cells treatment.
"For many years our team has been engaged in hyperbaric research and therapy – treatments based on protocols of exposure to high-pressure oxygen at various concentrations inside a pressure chamber. Our achievements over the years included the improvement of brain functions damaged by age, stroke or brain injury,” he said.
However, some warn caution and say aging is caused by multiple complicated factors, and the shortening of telomeres is only one aspect. They also question is the lengthening of telomeres by the HBOT treatment could cause more problems later.
“One time we see lengthened telomeres is with cancer,” Yoram Maaravi, chief physician at Hadassah Medical Center’s geriatric rehabilitation department, told The Times of Israel. “Cancer cells have an enzyme that can lengthen them, and we have to be very careful about manipulating nature.”
Efrati’s study was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Aging.
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