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Harvard Scientists Reverse Aging in Human Cells with Anti-Aging Cocktail

But we won't get our hands on it anytime soon.

By Cassidy Ward

What started as an ordinary fight in a New York parking garage quickly became a fight for the ages in Highlander, streaming now on Peacock! After beheading his nemesis with a sword, the most New York thing we've ever seen, Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) absorbs a tremendous burst of energy passing from his fallen foe.

He's been alive for centuries, a participant in an ongoing war between immortals that is destined soon to come to a close. If he survives (there can be only one, after all) he'll get the Prize, the collective knowledge of all the immortals and the ability to shape his life how he sees fit. In Connor's case, that means living an ordinary life, including being mortal and dying without having his head cut off.

RELATED: 'Highlander's Gathering approaches: Futurist predicts human immortality by 2030

Of course, the grass is always greener, and we ordinary mortals are desperately trying to find ways to live longer and be healthier while we're at it. Now, researchers from Moscow State University, the University of Maine, MIT, and Harvard Medical School have unveiled a collection of chemical cocktails capable of reversing aging in just a few days.

Harvard study could lead to a pill or cocktail to reverse aging

The study, published in the journal Aging, builds on previous work by Shinya Yamanaka and Sir John B. Gurdon, who won the Nobel Prize for their work with Yamanaka factors.

In the ordinary course of things, cells begin as pluripotent stem cells with the potential to become anything they want when they grow up. During development, they differentiate into bone cells, skin cells, muscle cells, and all of the other cells that make up a person. Over time, they lose the ability to function properly and your body marks them with a big black X. That's called senescence and marks the point when a cell's function has deteriorated so much that it no longer divides and dies.

The thing is, your old, corrupted cells and your squeaky new cells have the same set of genetic instructions, so how come some of them act up?

We think of our bodies as being wholly defined by our genome, but that's only part of the story. Your genetics define your DNA sequence, but your epigenetics define how those genes are expressed. Put another way, your genome lays the foundation and puts up the drywall, but epigenetics does all of the maintenance and decorating. Over time, based on environment or behavior, your epigenetics can change and that, in part, contributes to aging.

The study builds on the Information Theory of Aging, which suggests that a loss of epigenetic information over time results in destructive changes to gene expression. Those changes can include mitochondrial dysfunction and loss of cell function which we experience as aging.

Young woman with photo of aged eye over her own

Prior research has shown that turning on Yamanaka factors can turn adult cells back into pluripotent stem cells, reversing the cellular clock, as it were. Researchers have also shown that activating Yamanaka factors temporarily can give cells a boost, at least in mice. But we haven't figured out how to do it in humans, at least not safely.

One of the risks inherent in giving cells infinite cosmic power is that they might turn evil (cancerous). One of the other major challenges is that all of the existing methods for reversing cellular aging involve gene therapy, which gives a lot of people the willies. A chemical solution, however, could come in the form of a pill or a drink (an elixir, even?) and be ingested. That's something people are pretty comfortable with.

RELATED: Scientists Stop and Reverse Aging in Mice

In the new study, researchers looked at rates of something called nucleocytoplasmic protein compartmentalization (NCC), which increase as a cell ages. Then they used six different chemical cocktails to reverse NCC rates, making the cells young again. Importantly, they turned back the clock without resulting in cells becoming cancerous.

"This new discovery offers the potential to reverse aging with a single pill, with applications ranging from improving eyesight to effectively treating numerous age-related diseases, said the study's lead author David A. Sinclair, co-Director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research at Harvard Medical School, in a statement.

At present, their chemical elixir appears to reverse aging in human cells in a petri dish, but that's a long way from reversing aging in a living person. Before then, the experiments will need to be repeated and validated, then we'll need animal model experiments, probably with several different species, before human testing can even be considered.

The good news is, if it ever does hit the market, it won't matter how old you are when you get it.

In the meantime, see another side of immortality in Highlander, streaming now on Peacock!