In July, ZEIT ONLINE reported that researchers at the biotech company Intervene Immune were the first to successfully rejuvenate people biologically. What does that mean? Their life expectancy could have risen by two and a half years and reduced the risk of having a disease of old age - stroke, cancer or dementia. Using a mixture of three drugs, the researchers want to have reversed the aging process in nine subjects - with the human growth hormone HGH, the sex hormone-like substance DHEA and the diabetes drug metformin.
Still research is very preliminary. There was no control group and only a few subjects. Future studies will have to show how good the therapy really is and how many side effects it has.
If, however, it were confirmed what the researchers found, it would be a sensation - with far-reaching ethical and social consequences. These days, the study, the ZEIT ONLINE is in its final version, published in the journal Aging Cell . ZEIT ONLINE talked to their main author.
ZEIT ONLINE: Mr. Fahy, are you the first to succeed in reversing the aging process in humans?
Greg Fahy: As far as I know.
TIME ONLINE: The main goal of your study was to regenerate the thymus, an organ of the immune system that sits behind the sternum and stifles early in life. This should strengthen the immune system of older people and thus protect them from infections and autoimmune diseases. Did you expect it to affect biological age?
Fahy: I have always had scientific reports in mind that have been largely ignored by other researchers. They show that in old animals, one can reverse certain signs of aging, for example in the liver or the brain, when they are implanted with the thymus of a young animal. Therefore, I was optimistic all the time that thymic regeneration would also have systemic anti-aging effects.
Greg Fahy is a pharmacist and age researcher. Together with the biotechnologist Robert Brooke, he founded the company Intervene Immune, which carried out the present study. © private
ZEIT ONLINE: To measure the effect on biological age, they used epigenetic clocks (read a detailed report here). These are to measure the biological, ie true age on the basis of typical age-dependent changes of the genetic material and are considered to be very precise. How sure are you that not only blood cells but other organs, such as the brain, have rejuvenated?
We are still at the beginning, there is still a lot to check.
Fahy: The results of epigenetic clocks reveal what happens in other organs, the muscles and the brain, for example. Basically, we should not only see a rejuvenation in the blood cells, but everywhere in the body.
ZEIT ONLINE: Is there any other evidence that the entire organism of the nine men has rejuvenated?
Fahy: Yes, subjects' kidney function has improved over the course of the study. We also see that a certain blood marker, the ratio of monocytes to lymphocytes, has increased. We know that this can be a protection against the big killers of old age: at least eight different cancers, strokes, heart disease and atherosclerosis. But of course: We are still at the beginning, there is still a lot to check.
ZEIT ONLINE: That's right. So far, research is not far advanced. They have not even tested the drugs on women.
Fahy: At the beginning of the study, there was little research on the effects of growth hormone in women. In addition, the number of participants was so small that we did not want to divide them into subgroups. Women will also participate in the next study. And I am confident that we will see the same effects on the thymus and aging.