Vittorio Sebastiano wins award for his work in cell rejuvenation

December 1, 2020

The American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR) announced that institute member and assistant professor Vittorio Sebastiano, PhD, would be one of two researchers nationwide to receive a Medical Breakthroughs in Gerontology Award from the Glenn Foundation. The award provides $300,000 for research that “offers significant promise of yielding transforming discoveries in the fundamental biology of aging,” according to AFAR.

Sebastiano’s research concerns his discovery that stem cells can be “rejuvenated,” or reprogrammed to act young again. As we age, our stem cells acquire epigenetic modifications that alter their activity. Such modifications can make the cells less able to replenish injured or diseased tissue, for instance.

“AFAR and Glenn Foundation are the most preeminent US nonprofit agencies funding advances in biomedical research on aging, Sebastiano said. “This award means that the work my group is doing is being recognized  as very significant in the field of longevity, and has the potential to be paradigm-shifting.”

To rejuvenate cells, Sebastiano and his colleagues used a technology long known to be able to reset cells to an embryonic-like state. In research that won Japanese research Shinya Yamanaka a Nobel prize, it was shown that repeatedly exposing cells to four “Yamanaka factors” could knock out all the epigenetic markers that make adult cells like skin cells, for instance, act differently than embryonic cells or other adult cells. The Yamanaka factors return our cells to the factory settings, so to speak. 

What Sebastiano discovered is that exposing cells to fewer rounds of Yamanaka factors would not return them to an embryonic state, but instead would leave them with the qualities of an adult cell, only in a younger state. So, an aged skin cell treated in this way, for instance, would still act like a skin cell, but would be more like a skin cell in a young person than in an older person.

Working with Stanford professor of neurology and neuroscience Thomas Rando, MD, PhD, Sebastiano showed that after taking muscle cells from aging mice and humans, subjecting them to the rejuvenating treatment, and transplanting them back into the same mice, the muscle cells regained their youthful strength, increasing the muscular strength of old recipient mice by 40%.

The work has the potential to significantly change our “healthspan,” or the span of our healthy, active lives as we age, Sebastiano says. “We are at a significant inflection point when it comes to aging and aging associated diseases,” he says. “This award will allow me to explore how, mechanistically, the epigenetic reprogramming of aging works.” 

Read the article from March, 2020: Old Human Cells Rejuvenated with Stem Cell Technology