Delaying Aging, No Longer an Inconceivable Idea

Taken from ASBMB’s monthly research newsletter: The Monthly Digest (Mar. 2021, Issue 3).

Written by Sahithi Gangaram

Larry Page, one of the co-founders of Google, once described Calico— a biotech startup focused on tackling the challenge of aging and age-associated pathology— as a “Moonshot.” The chances of success seemed impossible.

Despite the odds, the biomedical industry has made enormous strides in improving health and lengthening Americans’ lives as a whole. 

Innovations in health care over the century have led to a rapid drop in infant mortality. Fewer Americans are dying from heart disease. Cancer survival rates are increasing. We see medical and genetic advances that may solve the health riddles that currently stump us on the horizon.

Given the current trajectory of advances in science and health care, people may continue to reach older ages as healthier and more active individuals. As a result, Americans will use fewer health care resources while continuing to give back to society in numerous ways.

Today, we will look at a study published on November 18, 2020, showing one such breakthrough in the science of aging.

Tel Aviv University and the Shamir Medical Center in Israel have made the groundbreaking discovery that hyperbaric oxygen treatments (HBOT) in healthy, aging adults can stop the aging of blood cells and even reverse the aging process.

The researchers found that a protocol of treatments with high-pressure oxygen in a pressure chamber can reverse two significant processes associated with aging: telomeres (protective regions located at both ends of every chromosome) shortening and accumulating old and malfunctioning cells in the body. Focusing on immune cells containing DNA obtained from the participants’ blood, the study discovered a lengthening of up to 38% of telomeres and a decrease of up to 37% of senescent cells (old and dying cells).

Photo by Michael Stavaridis

“Our achievements over the years included the improvement of brain functions damaged by age, stroke or brain injury.” Professor Efrati, who leads the research team, explains. 

“In the current study, we wished to examine the impact of HBOT on healthy and independent aging adults, and to discover whether such treatments can slow down, stop or even reverse the normal aging process at the cellular level.”

The researchers exposed 35 healthy individuals aged 64 and older to a series of 60 hyperbaric sessions over 90 days. Participants provided blood samples before, during, and after the treatments and sometime after the series of treatments concluded. The researchers then analyzed various immune cells in the blood and compared all samples obtained.

The treatments reversed aging in two significant aspects: the telomeres at the ends of the chromosomes grew longer instead of shorter, at a rate of 20% to 38% for the different cell types, and the number of senescent cells in the overall cell population reduced significantly – by 11% to 37% depending on the cell type.

“Today, telomere shortening is considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of the biology of aging,” Professor Efrati says. “Researchers around the world are trying to develop pharmacological and environmental interventions that enable telomere elongation. Our HBOT protocol was able to achieve this, proving that the aging process can be reversed at the basic cellular-molecular level.”

“Until now, interventions such as lifestyle modifications and intense exercise were shown to have some inhibiting effect on telomere shortening,” Dr. Hadanny adds. “But in our study, only three months of HBOT were able to elongate telomeres at rates far beyond any currently available interventions or lifestyle modifications. With this pioneering study, we have opened a door for further research on the cellular impact of HBOT and its potential for reversing the aging process.”


Yafit Hachmo, A. H.-K. (2020). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases telomere length and decreases immunosenescence in isolated blood cells: a prospective trial. Aging, Volume 12, Issue 22 pp 22445—22456.

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