In the future, we may be able to treat aging itself, rather than just the diseases that come with it, the Guardian reports. “Our study shows that aging may not have to proceed in one single direction," researcher Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte says. "With careful modulation, aging might be reversed.” According to the New York Times, the study—published Thursday in Cell—is science's first attempt at combating aging by rejiggering the genome. In the study, researchers genetically engineered mice to produce four proteins that revert cells back to their embryonic state, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. They then created an on/off switch for the proteins to keep cells from permanently reverting to their embryonic state and becoming useless.
After six weeks of treatment, mice genetically engineered to have the rapid-aging disease progeria lived 30% longer. Mice without progeria had better functioning hearts, pancreases, and muscles, as well as improved healing of wounds, following treatment. Basically, they seemed younger. The study's results were described by outside experts as "exciting" and "huge." While similar treatments for humans are likely at least a decade away, researchers believe they could be used to slow down the body's internal clock and control at least some aspects of aging. They won't, however, "lead to immortality," says Izpisua Belmonte (Meanwhile, optimistic women may live longer.)