The breakthrough discovery could have huge implications for the way humans age and could be the key to massively extending the average lifespan.
Experts from the University of Exeter and University of Brighton discovered they could rejuvenate senescent cells which have ceased their natural age cycle, causing them to divide.
The team applied compounds known as resveratrol analogues – chemicals which are naturally found in red wine, dark chocolate, red grapes and blueberries – to cells.
A statement from the University of Exeter said: “Within hours, the cells looked younger and started to rejuvenate, behaving like young cells and dividing.”
Dr Eva Latorre, Research Associate at the University of Exeter, said: “When I saw some of the cells in the culture dish rejuvenating I couldn’t believe it. These old cells were looking like young cells. It was like magic.
“I repeated the experiments several times and in each case the cells rejuvenated. I am very excited by the implications and potential for this research.”
Professor Lorna Harries, a professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Exeter, said: “This is a first step in trying to make people live normal lifespans, but with health for their entire life.
“Our data suggests that using chemicals to switch back on the major class of genes that are switched off as we age might provide a means to restore function to old cells.
“This demonstrates that when you treat old cells with molecules that restore the levels of the splicing factors, the cells regain some features of youth.
“They are able to grow, and their telomeres – the caps on the ends of the chromosomes that shorten as we age – are now longer, as they are in young cells.
“Far more research is needed now to establish the true potential for these sort of approaches to address the degenerative effects of ageing.”