Scientists claim a major breakthrough in reversing immune cells aging

Researchers intend to turn the hormonal trick into a new rejuvenating treatment for the elderly & immunocompromised

By Faisal Khan | 21 September 2021

An Israeli medical breakthrough may soon provide the key to protecting elderly populations from severe infections. (Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

Breakthroughs like this one in healthcare provide hope for a future where our immune system can continue to function effectively against any external pathogens — even for the elderly and the immunocompromised. Reversing cellular aging is not just a staple of science fiction anymore as scientists make look into novel research to treat this natural process, that progresses with age, more like a disease.

I wrote about a couple of interesting & promising studies related to the subject — in late 2019 and one later in 2020. The first one was by Stanford scientists who looked at blood-borne signs of aging at 34, 60, and 78. And the second one was conducted by the Harvard team, identifying molecules that can reverse the cellular aging process. COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the focus of researchers to the study of the human immune system, where the older population has been most at risk due to weakened immune response.

Keeping that in mind, scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology got to work in order to understand the susceptibility of the older population to COVID-19 and why vaccines were less effective in this segment of the population. They now claim to have found a way to reverse the natural aging of immune system cells — potentially making the elderly more resistant not just to COVID-19, but other infections as well.

The secret for the novel process lies within B-cells — also known as B lymphocytes, they are produced in the bone marrow and act as the first line of defense against invading pathogens, by producing antibodies. B cells are constantly being replenished by the bone marrow, working silently against the pathogens — oftentimes without the individual knowing that they have been exposed to one. However, these B cells don’t disappear, they convert into memory B cells (MBC).

“We found specific hormonal signals produced by the old B cells, the memory cells, that inhibit the bone marrow from producing new B cells. This is a huge discovery. It is like finding a needle in a haystack.”

~ Prof. Doron Melamed, Lead Researcher

If the B cells die before converting to MBC, a new one will be produced. MBCs on the other hand, act as record keepers of your previous infections, for the immune system. But there is a problem — B cell production grinds to a halt when there are more MBCs taking up space and this weakens the immune response to infections like COVID-19. With age, MBCs accumulate, weakening the ability of the immune system to recognize & fend off external threats — on the basis of a dwindling B cells population.

With the current research, the team figured out a mechanism to override the system of homeostasis. The way to trick the body into producing new cells is to manipulate the molecular pathways by inhibiting one of the hormones — this, in turn, enables the bone marrow to produce new B cells. To validate their hypothesis, the team collaborated with the departments of hematology and rheumatology at Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv and Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa.

Patients undergoing treatment for conditions like lupus, lymphoma, and multiple sclerosis had their MBC stock depleted, which resulted in the rapid production of new B cells. In the process, the researchers identified specific hormones that shut down the B cells’ production, once MBCs were replenished. Deactivating these hormones also kickstarted the production of pathogen-fighting B cells.

Clinical trials are scheduled next to determine the efficacy and safety of this hormone-inhibiting process. If that is proven, it could pave the way for long-term rejuvenating treatment for the elderly and immunocompromised. Complete Research was published in the Journal of Blood.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Faisal Khan is a prolific Canada-based tech blogger and influencer. He is the founder and editor of the Technicity publication which focuses on technical, scientific and financial knowledge sharing. Follow him on Twitter @fklivestolearn.

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