Mayo Clinic discovers cell that possibly holds secret to aging extra gracefully

By @vitthernandez on
Seniors Run
Israelis take part in sport games for people over 65 years old, organized by a nursing home in Tel Aviv, Israel, September 8, 2015. Reuters/ Baz Ratner

Medical science has a growing interest in ageing because of the graying population in many industrialised nations. In the recent months, a number of breakthroughs have been achieved in laboratories which are starting to cross over in human trials such as the use of diabetes drug metformin to prolong life to 120 years.

However, a long life is not worth it if the person suffers from various ailments linked with aging. That makes a Mayo Clinic study, published in Nature journal of Wednesday, very much anticipated to move from mice to people. The clinic possibly discovered the cell that could be the key to ageing gracefully.

Fortune reports that by injecting mice with a drug, it pushes out worn-out and toxic cells, the senescent cells which “litters the body with aging.” Rodents injected the drug in middle age became healthier as it aged, become more active and exploratory and took a longer time to develop tumours.

It also had lesser vision problems, accumulated fat at a slower pace and had better renal and cardio conditions. The drug extended the lab mice’s life by eight months, or equivalent to one-third of the average lifespan. In 2011, the team removed senescent cells from genetically modified mice. The new study was their first successful try in regular and healthy mice.

However, the way the drug attacks the senescent cells would not work, so far, on humans. Scientists would need to learn how senescent cells behave in humans. To pursue that study, Mayo Clinic is one of the investors in Unity Biotechnology. Other investors are Jan van Deursen, lead author of the study and co-founder of Unity, Chinese WuXi, Venrock and ARCH Venture Partners.

Unity is designing senolytic medicines that target vulnerabilities unique to senescent cells. In animals, removing senescent cells reverses or prevents conditions such as ostheoarthritis, eye ailments and kidney diseases, according to the company’s Web site.

“Imagine drugs that could prevent, maybe even cure, arthritis or heart disease or loss of eyesight … It’s an incredible aspiration,” says Unity co-founder and CEO Nathaniel David. The only catch is that it may take decades to move from drug being injected on lab mice to pills that humans can just pop, probably not in our lifetime.

Join the Discussion