We all are going to die, that is a fact. There is no control on that. However, growing old. Is it in our control? Or is it not? If this were said a few decades ago, it would be considered presumptuous and exaggeration. Now things are entirely changed.
Now, scientists are trying to use gene editing tool ‘CRISPR’ to stop or reverse aging and also age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
What is Aging?
In science, aging is defined as the breaking down of various physiological, chemical and functional processes and components of the body that are important for survival and proper functioning.
Why We Age?
The most well-understood reasons known to be associated with causing aging include;
- Oxidative stress,
- Degradation of telomeres
- Mitochondria genome damage
Oxidative stress occurs because of the reaction with and damage of cell members, nucleic acid and proteins caused by reactive oxygen species from the mitochondria.
Video: the science behind aging
There are several deadly age-related diseases which are neurodegenerative in nature, namely Alzheimer’s and Parkinson diseases. These diseases in the span of a few years completely paralyzed patients. The patients are unable to carry out normal day to day tasks, even as simple as eating and drinking.
Other diseases associated with aging include atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, cataracts, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and various types of cancer.
What if we could control and find a cure for aging, how amazing it would be?
Normal proteins whose genes became mutated, as a result, become pathogenic proteins cause age-related diseases.
Currently, CRISPR is used while targeting these pathogenic proteins in mouse models as well as in cell lines. Studies are showing progress; soon CRISPR will be used to treat these neurodegenerative diseases.
What is CRISPR?
CRISPR is a new gene-editing tool that has the potential to modifies the genome of almost all organism.
If a gene is involved in aging, then it could be edited by CRISPR. However, to edit every cell in the body is difficult if not possible. Therefore, the target should be only oxidative stress genes.
Read more about CRISPR: What is CRISPR?
Using CRISPR to treat Aging
CRISPR is showing some promise against age-related neurodegenerative diseases. Also, it is showing some progress in slowing down aging.
George Church, a pioneer in CRISPR technology, is currently working on using CRISPR in slowing and reversing the aging process. According to him, ‘’ In about next 5 or 6 years we will be able to find a solution for aging’’. He further added; “A scenario is, everyone takes gene therapy — not just curing rare diseases like cystic fibrosis, but diseases that everyone has, like aging,”
A group of researchers from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, has successfully reversed skin wrinkling and hair loss in mouse models. They did so by inducing mutations via environmental factors in mouse and then again reversing the aging by stopping the environmental factors.
Also, for the removal of wrinkles, CRISPR can also be designed that it will target collagen-producing genes in the skin. The edited genes will make the collagen levels in the skin back to normal.
In February 2019, researchers from the Salk Institute published a paper entitled “CRISPR/Cas9 therapy can suppress aging, enhance health and extend life span in mice”. The new developed genome-editing therapy can suppress the aging process observed in mice with Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that also afflicts humans.
CRISPR Cas9: Will it Cure Aging?
So, Can We Cure Aging?
Until now no research is published yet claiming to find a cure for reserving or stopping aging altogether. Meanwhile, various researcher groups are working on finding out how to prevent or reserve aging. They somehow succeed.
“Aging is a complex process in which cells start to lose their functionality, so it is critical for us to find effective ways to study the molecular drivers of aging,” says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory.
So, hopefully, in the span of a few years, we will be able to find a definitive cure for aging.
Explore More: 5 facts and Myths about CRISPR