What comes to mind when we hear about the biological clock?

We can say that there are two important aspects when we talk about biological clocks:

  • the circadian rhythm
  • a woman’s desire for motherhood

With regard to circadian rhythms, we know that they regulate the cyclical repetition of many biological functions, including the alternation between sleep and wakefulness. They have been (and still are) much studied for various reasons, including space travel. I remember that in the now distant past of 1987, my countryman (from Senigallia) Maurizio Montalbini, on behalf of NASA, stayed 210 days in a cavity of the Frasassi Caves (here some information about his life). It was the world record for isolation and represented at the time an important part of the studies that contributed toward the long stays aboard the International Space Station.

I’ve never experienced a woman’s intense desire for motherhood in person. Direct testimonies suggest that hormonal changes lead to major psychological pressures and fortunately, otherwise the entire human race would risk extinction!

In this article, however, I’d like to talk about the rejuvenation of the biological clock.

Rejuvenation of the biological clock: what is it?

A study by a team at the University of California (Irvine) suggests for the first time that it seems possible to slow down and maybe turn back a little bit the epigenetic clock of our body.

Before we go any further I need to say a few words about the epigenome. In the course of our life, DNA undergoes small modifications (I’m not talking about more or less random mutations). That is, methyl groups are added to a specific nitrogen base called Cytosine. These chemical changes change over the course of our lives and can be used to measure a person’s biological age.

The University of California team found that taking three common drugs, growth hormone and two diabetes drugs (for one year) led to the volunteers who underwent this experiment to rejuvenate their biological age by two and a half years. This rejuvenation was measured by analyzing the epigenome of the volunteers.

But how is rejuvenation possible?

Let’s remember that we’re always talking about biological age and not physcial age, so wrinkles and muscle relaxation unfortunately remain.

However, a small organ that is located in the chest between the lungs and the sternum can benefit from a treatment with growth hormone. I’m now referring to a gland called the thymus. This gland reduces in size over time and its activity also decreases. The important thing to note is that the thymus has the task of bringing various types of lymphocytes that are cells of the immune system to maturity. Now we can begin to understand a little better the reasons that led this team to run these studies.

What are the consequences?

Regenerating thymus functions by stimulating them with growth hormone could be useful in people who have an inactive and/or an inactive immune system, such as older people; for whom pneumonia and other infectious diseases are among the main causes of death.

But what do diabetes medications have to do with it?

Growth hormone has a side-effect (i.e. it can promote diabetes), so researchers have included two anti-diabetic drugs to counter this side-effect.

In conclusion, the true fountain of youth has not yet been discovered, but something that can help us age better perhaps — yes!

This post is also available in: Italiano

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I've always been passionate about science and have a Degree in Biological Sciences and a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology. After six years of basic and applied research, I joined the company that provided the DNA sequencers that led Celera Genomics to complete the sequencing of the first human genome shortly before the same result was achieved by the "Human Genome Project" international public consortium. Subsequently, I became interested in human and animal diagnostics, and the development of molecular techniques from research-to-clinic. Science4Life represents the next stage of my personal journey, a stage in which I will make my experience and knowledge accessible to everyone.

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