Menu Menu

Scientists make woman’s skin cells act thirty years younger

A breakthrough in medicine, skin-care, and anti-ageing research could be on the horizon: 53-year-old woman’s skin cells have been altered to look and behave like those of a 23-year-old. 

Scientists in Cambridge have stunned the medical community by altering the skin cells of a 53-year-old woman to the equivalent of someone almost half her age.

Their strategy was developed from the cloning technique used to create Dolly the sheep in 1996. Researchers at Scotland’s Roslin Institute developed a method for turning a mammary gland cell from an adult sheep into an embryo. Dolly was the first mammal to be successfully cloned from another.

Medics believe the same rejuvenation could be used to target other areas of the body, ultimately treating age-related diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, and neurological disorders.

Head of the team who developed the ground-breaking renewal process, Professor Wolf Reik, stated ‘We have been dreaming about this kind of thing. Many common diseases get worse with age and to think about helping people in this way is super exciting’.

The technique cannot be immediately introduced into clinics as the process increases risk of cancers. However Prof Reik remains positive that the breakthrough will lead to safer, more effective methods being developed.

The main goal of the experiment, Reik states, is to ‘extend the human health span, rather than the lifespan, so people can get older in a healthier way’.

But this focus on health has been lost on many members of the public. Netizen’s took to social media last week to denounce coverage of the procedure by BBC News, claiming it fuelled an ageist narrative.

The BBC’s post features an image of a young woman in a bath towel, checking her skin in the mirror. It’s the kind of picture used to market skincare lines, or aesthetic beauty treatments.

One reader commented beneath the post ‘let women be 50 in peace?’, while another called the post out for misleading readers; ‘[this article] degrades the hard work of the scientists carrying out these incredible experiments. [They] could treat heart diseases, neurological disorders, severe skin burns etc, yet you make it sound like this is some vain beauty experiment?’

Criticism of the post speaks to the innate ageism of the beauty industry, with social media serving as its breeding ground. Others have called out the procedure itself, suggesting that claims to target age-related diseases are a guise to further vilify ageing skin.

Choosing to carry out the experiment on a woman, rather than a man, lends itself to the inherent misogyny of ageism – which has pressured women to alter their appearance for decades. While men are celebrated for ageing ‘like fine wine’, women are constantly encouraged to resist the natural process of growing old.

A Guardian article explored this topic over 8 years ago, yet its points still sadly ring true. ‘Feminism has encouraged us to accept our gender, our bodies, our sexuality and our desires. But rarely do we hear we have to accept our age’ […] ‘being told you look younger than you actually are is still a form of flattery, an odd construct of a compliment that we are, happily, not what we appear to be’.

Reik has done little to rebuff these claims. When asked whether skin cell rejuvenation could lead to whole-body regeneration, or an ‘elixir of youth’, he said the idea was not entirely far-fetched.

Despite scepticism from others in the medical community – like Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, who believes the hurdles between Reik’s result and clinical applications are considerable – this monumental discovery in skin cell research is a product of the zeitgeist.

Whether or not Reik’s work leads to human triumph over diseases like dementia and type 2 diabetes, it shows that we still have a long way to go in changing our attitudes toward ageing.


Thred Newsletter!

Sign up to our planet-positive newsletter