Hyperbaric (high-pressure) oxygen therapy )HBOT( has been used for some time for the treatment of divers suffering from decompression sickness, a potential risk of scuba diving. Other conditions treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy include serious infections, bubbles of air in blood vessels, and wounds that may not heal as a result of diabetes or radiation injury.
But now, an important new use has been proven effective by Israeli researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) and Shamir (Assaf Harofeh) Medical Center in Tzrifin (near Rishon Lezion). They conducted the first clinical trial using a unique treatment protocol in healthy aging adults that reversed two biological processes associated with aging in human cells.
Findings included a significant lengthening (up to 38%) of the telomeres – protective regions located at both ends of every chromosome, known to become shorter as the individual ages. In addition, they also found a decrease of up to 37% in the accumulation of old malfunctioning cells known as senescent cells. This means that HBOT in healthy aging adults can stop the aging of blood cells.
The study was led by Prof. Shai Efrati, a faculty member of TAU’s Sackler School of Medicine and its Sagol School of Neuroscience who is also founder and director of the Sagol Center of Hyperbaric Medicine at the Shamir, and Dr. Amir Hadanny, chief medical research officer of the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research. The clinical trial was conducted as part of a comprehensive Israeli research program that targets aging as a reversible disease. The paper was published in the scientific journal Aging under the title: “Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases telomere length and decreases immunosenescence in isolated blood cells: A prospective trial.”
“For many years, our team has been engaged in hyperbaric research and therapy – treatments based on protocols of exposure to high-pressure oxygen at various concentrations inside a pressure chamber,” said Efrati. “Our achievements over the years included the improvement of brain functions damaged by age, stroke or brain injury. 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 or over to a series of 60 hyperbaric sessions over a period of 90 days. Each participant provided blood samples at four different points in time –
before, during, at the end and after the series of treatments. The researchers analyzed various immune cells (cells containing DNA) in the blood and compared the results.
“Aging can be characterized by the progressive loss of physiological integrity, resulting in impaired functions and susceptibility for diseases and death,” the team wrote. “This biological deterioration is considered a major risk factor for cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease among others. At the cellular level, there are two key hallmarks of the aging process: shortening of telomere length and cellular senescence.”
They continued that “aging is characterized by the progressive loss of physiological capacity. At the cellular level, two key hallmarks of the aging process include telomere length shortening and cellular senescence. Repeated intermittent hyperoxic exposures, using certain hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) protocols, can induce regenerative effects which normally occur during hypoxia. The aim of the current study was to evaluate whether HBOT affects telomere length and senescent-cell concentrations in a normal, non-pathological, aging adult population.”
The findings proved that the treatments actually reversed the aging process in two of its major 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 percentage of senescent cells in the overall cell population was reduced significantly – by 11% to 37% depending on cell type.
“Today, telomere shortening is considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of the biology of aging,” continued Efrati. “Researchers around the world are trying to develop pharmacological and environmental interventions that make it possible for telomeres to get longer. Our HBOT protocol was able to achieve this, proving that the aging process can in fact 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 shorteningת,” concluded Hadanny. “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.”