SCIENTISTS at Edinburgh University have succeeded in regenerating an elderly organ in a living animal into a more youthful state for the first time.
It is hoped that the discovery could pave the way for future treatments in humans to revive declining organs including the heart and brain.
The researchers, from the Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the university, succeeded in rejuvenating the thymus in ageing mice by manipulating the genetics of the animals.
The thymus, which sits near the heart, is a vital part of the immune system and produces T-cells to fight off infection.
But by the age of 70 the thymus shrinks in size dramatically, making the immune system less effective, meaning people lose the ability to fight off infections such as flu as they get older.
The team targeted the protein FOXN1, which helps to control how important genes in the thymus are switched on. They used genetically modified mice to allow them to increase levels of the protein using chemicals. The regenerated thymus was more than twice the size of the organ in the mice who were not treated.