(p. A1) In a potentially fundamental advance, researchers have opened up a novel approach to combating the effects of aging with the discovery that a special category of cells, known as senescent cells, are bad actors that promote the aging of the tissues. Cleansing the body of the cells, they hope, could postpone many of the diseases of aging.
The findings raise the prospect that any therapy that rids the body of senescent cells would protect it from the ravages of aging. But many more tests will be needed before scientists know if drugs can be developed to help people live longer.
Senescent cells accumulate in aging tissues, like arthritic knees, cataracts and the plaque that may line elderly arteries. The cells secrete agents that stimulate the immune system and cause low-level inflammation. Until now, there has been no way to tell if the presence of the cells is good, bad or indifferent.
The answer turns out to be that (p. A4) the cells hasten aging in the tissues in which they accumulate. In a delicate feat of genetic engineering, a research team led by Darren J. Baker and Jan M. van Deursen at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., has generated a strain of mouse in which all the senescent cells can be purged by giving the mice a drug that forces the cells to self-destruct.
Rid of the senescent cells, the Mayo Clinic researchers reported online Wednesday in the journal Nature, the mice’s tissues showed a major improvement in the usual burden of age-related disorders. They did not develop cataracts, avoided the usual wasting of muscle with age, and could exercise much longer on a mouse treadmill. They retained the fat layers in the skin that usually thin out with age and, in people, cause wrinkling.
For the full story, see:
NICHOLAS WADE. “Prospect of Delaying Aging Ills Is Raised in Cell Study of Mice.To Challenges For Obama, Add Another.” The New York Times (Thur., November 3, 2011): A1-A4.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated November 2, 2011 and has the title “Purging Cells in Mice Is Found to Combat Aging Ills.”)
(Note: thanks to Luis Locay for sending me the link to this.)
Another worthwhile article summarizing the same research, is:
SHIRLEY S. WANG. “Cell Study Finds a Way to Slow Ravages of Age.” The Wall Street Journal (Thur., November 3, 2011): A2.