Posted on Jan 23, 2023, 5 p.m.
According to a recent publication in New Scientist, ultrasound therapy could stop or even reverse the aging process. Findings suggest that we may be able to turn back the clock on aging human cells by exposing them to low-frequency ultrasound waves which restart cell division in senescent zombie cells that would have damaged tissues around them, triggering cell dysfunction and disease.
The research on older mice found that their older cells became reinvigorated which helped the animals to run faster and further, the treatment was reported to even have cured one of the animal’s hunched backs after it worsened initially. Findings suggest the potential to ward off frailty, and a clinical trial is being planned to investigate whether the technique is safe and if it can combat age-related diseases.
“We treated it twice with ultrasound and it was back to behaving normally. I don’t think rejuvenation is too strong a term,” says lead author Professor Michael Sheetz from the University of Texas, according to a statement provided by South West News Service per New Scientist.
Zombie senescent cells accumulate in the body with age after the cells stop dividing, when this happens they can secrete toxins that cause inflammation which damages other cells and tissues around them. This has been linked to many age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis. Most studies investigate ways to flush out dead cells, this study is one of the first to show how damaged, dead, and dying cells might be revived.
According to the University of Texas researchers, low doses of ultrasound waves were found to make senescent cells from humans and monkeys resume the dividing process and stop producing secretions that contaminate their healthy counterparts. After around 15 divisions human skin cells will typically begin to wear down, the researchers report the cells reaching 24 divisions with no signs of abnormalities.
Mice were placed in warm water just deep enough to cover half of their bodies as ultrasound waves lose less power traveling through water than air. The frequency used was less than 100 kilohertz which is far below the 2,000 or so frequency used for medical imaging. After treatment, the animals were observed to perform better in physical testing compared to untreated controls. Additionally, fluorescent dyes were used to illuminate senescent cells, revealing decreased proportions in the kidneys and pancreas.
While more work is needed to define the effective ultrasound parameters and how the treatment rejuvenates cells, a possible biological explanation could be that the ultrasound therapy appears to physically distort cells, producing similar effects to exercise, and may be reactivating an interior waste disposal system which dysfunctions in zombie senescent cells.
“Is this too good to be true?’ is the question I often ask. We are examining all aspects of it to see if it really does work,” Prof. Sheetz explains.“Aspects of this are still mystifying,” says Prof. Sheetz.
Other studies using higher frequencies showed improvements in memory, a small trial is already underway to investigate the possibility of this being an invention for cognitive loss in those with Alzheimer’s disease. Another trial is being planned involving participants with osteoarthritis and diabetic foot ulcers.
Moving from animal studies to humans, effective parameters need to be determined when applied to humans because our bones and lungs block ultrasound transmission. Although ultrasound has been used for decades for a wide range of treatments, any therapy that boosts cell division could increase the risk of cancer, but Prof. Sheetz says that his team has not seen any signs of it after treatment.
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