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Longevity Briefs: Hyperbaric oxygen treatment may slow rate of aging

Posted on 1 December 2020

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: Telomeres are short protective caps on the end of the chromosomes, designed to prevent damage to coding regions of the DNA during cell division. Every time a cell divides the telomere is shortened. Usually human cells can undergo around 50 doublings before they reach reproductive capacity causing the cell to enter a state called senescence. In this state the cell cannot reproduce any further and begins to send out inflammatory signals, which can damage other cells in the body.

Telomere shortening and the resultant build-up of these senescent cells are thought to be two major characteristics of aging. Preventing these processes could help slow down an individual’s rate of aging.

What did the researchers do: Researchers gathered 35 healthy adults aged 64 and over, to receive hyperbaric oxygen treatment 60 times over a three month peroid. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) involves breathing in oxygen in a chamber where atmospheric pressure is raised up to three times higher than normal. This type of treatment is usually used to treat decompression sickness, a risk then scuba divers experience when surfacing too quickly, or sporting injuries.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: Although the initial aim was to observe how HBOT affected the formation of new blood vessels, the scientists serendipitously found that the treatment had a considerable impact on telomeres. Increasing the telomere length of four different types of immune cell; T helper, T cytotoxic, natural killer and B cells, by 20-38%. This resulted in a significant reduction in senescent immune cells present in the blood.

The researchers hope that this may pave the way for further investigations into the effect of HBOT on the ageing process.

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