”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.’
GALVESTON, Texas — Ultrasound therapy could delay, stop, or even reverse the aging process, a new study reveals. Scientists in Texas are working on turning back the clock on human cells by zapping them with low frequency waves. The process restarts cell division, awakening them from a “zombie” like state that triggers cell dysfunction and even disease.
Experiments on older mice found that their cells became reinvigorated, helping the animals run further and faster on a treadmill. The treatment even cured one individual’s hunched back, after it worsened initially.
“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.
The findings offer hope of warding off frailty, keeping people fit into their 70s and 80s. A clinical trial is in the planning stages to see if the technique is safe and can combat age-related diseases.
“‘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.
The sound waves are much lower than medical scans use
After a certain number of divisions, the cells in our bodies stop dividing and become senescent. Some secrete toxins that cause inflammation. This has been linked to everything from arthritis to Alzheimer’s. Scientists have previously focused on “flushing” out dead and dying cells. This is the first study to show they can actually be “revived.”
Prof. Sheetz and his team found low doses of ultrasound waves made senescent cells from monkeys and humans resume dividing, halting production of chemicals that contaminate healthy counterparts. Human skin cells usually begin wearing out after about 15 divisions. In this case, they reached 24 with no signs of abnormalities.
The ultrasound frequency was less than 100 kilohertz — well below the 2,000 or so used for medical imaging. Tests are continuing to see what the limits are. The study opens the door to growing cells for research, as well as treating people with age-related issues.
The researchers placed mice in warm water deep enough to cover at least half their bodies. They were between 22 and 25 months-old, equivalent to a human being in their 60s or 70s. Ultrasound waves lose less power travelling through water than they do through air. The lab rodents did better in physical tests compared with peers put in the tub but left untreated. Fluorescent dyes that light up senescent cells were also used to show proportions in the kidneys and pancreas decreased afterwards.
“Aspects of this are still mystifying,” says Prof. Sheetz.
How does the treatment rejuvenate cells?
A possible biological explanation for why this treatment appears to work is ultrasound physically distorts cells, producing similar effects to exercise. In particular, it may be reactivating interior waste disposal systems which grind to a halt in senescent cells.
Prof. Jurgen Gotz from the University of Queensland, who did not take part in the study, described the evidence as convincing.
“But I think more work is needed to define the effective ultrasound parameters,” Prof. Gotz says in a statement from SWNS.
When applying it to people, he pointed out that bones and lungs block ultrasound transmission. His Australian team has found mice given a higher frequency of ultrasound also show improvements in memory. A small trial is already underway to see if this can help people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Ultrasound has been used for decades as a therapy for a wide range of conditions. Prof. Sheetz’s team is planning a trial involving people with osteoarthritis, who will immerse their bodies in water, and people with diabetic foot ulcers, who will be treated using foot baths. Any therapy that boosts cell division could theoretically increase the risk of cancer, but Prof. Sheetz says his team has seen no sign of this after treatment.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.