In a major breakthrough, scientists have transformed cells from patients as old as 100 into stem cells that are virtually identical to those found in embryos. This finding paves the way for a new era in regenerative treatment for the elderly.
If these can be used to grow healthy tissue, which can safely be transplanted into elderly patients, it could open up new avenues of treatment for the elderly.
"This is a new paradigm for cell rejuvenation, the age of cells is definitely not a barrier to reprogramming," the Telegraph quoted Jean-Marc Lemaitre of the University of Montpellier, who led the research, as saying.
Embryonic stem cells can grow into any type of tissue in the body, and scientists hope they could one day be used to replace diseased organs with healthy, lab-grown replacements.
But their use in medicine is controversial because it involves the destruction of human embryos, albeit at a very early stage.
As an alternative, scientists can use a method of taking normal cells from adults and reversing them to an unspecialised state, known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), making them almost indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells.
The problem was whether the technique can work efficiently in elderly patients, who have the most to gain from the potential treatments, because their cells have deteriorated further.
But the scientists were able to overcome this hurdle and "reset" many of the key markers of ageing in cells by adding two new ingredients, known as transcription factors, to the method of generating adult stem cells.
However, the team said there is a long way to go before the research could be translated into treatments.
The finding was reported in the Genes and Development journal.