In a nice island off the coast of Southern Italy, Ischia, there is a spring of youth. The name goes back to the Greek times, 400bc, when people believed that the water of that spring was able to rejuvenate the skin of elderly people. The spring is still there and it is actively marketed to today's tourists.
The problem is that it does not really work.
However, as scientists understand more and more the processes at cellular level they are also detecting physical causes making us older. And of course they are wondering if these processes can be stopped (and even better reversed).
This is the context for a news coming from the Mayo Clinic in an article on Nature. Researchers at Mayo Clinic have focussed on the mechanism living organisms have developed as a way to make sure that damaged cells (this happens as time goes by as errors in the cellular division tend to creep up) stop dividing and this leads to their senescence (once a cell divides each of the resulting cell i s brand new, a baby cell if you want).
Stopping damaged cells from dividing is a good thing: when this does not happen cancer may result.
What researchers have tried to do was to get rid of this "elderly" cells, and they tried the method on mice. This pruning turns out to be an effective way to decrease cancer setting up and it also resulted in an increased life span. They used a compound, AP20187, that affects in cell protein processing.
The results have been very promising: an increased life span between 17-35%. Comparing this, just to get a feeling not because it can be done, for a human being it would mean to extend the average life span from 80 to 100 years. Wow!
Interestingly, the mice lived longer and they also seemed to live a healthier life, in other terms they remained younger for a longer time.
It is not the only path of research being pursued to lengthen our life span. I am pretty sure results applicable to humans will become available in the coming decades. What I do not know is what kind of new issues will rise. We are moving into an unchartered course...