PARIS – Zapping worn-out cells in the organs of “middle-aged” mice caused the rodents to live longer, healthier lives, said a study Wednesday that raised intriguing prospects for anti-aging treatments.
Mice minus these aged “senescent” cells went on to enjoy better kidney function and stronger hearts, a later onset of cancer and fewer cataracts than their untreated peers, according to a research paper in the journal Nature.
They also lived longer.
“The mice that were treated to remove their senescent cells had a life-span extension . . . from 25 to 35 percent,” said study coauthor Darren Baker of The Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Minnesota.
“We found at 18 months of age, so after six months of treatment, the treated animals were more exploratory, more active. They had also improvements in kidney function, in heart function,” he said.
The benefits extended to both genders and different strains of mouse.
“In all cases, we found that there is a significant health and life-span extension,” Baker explained in a recording made by Nature.
The team genetically engineered mice in which senescent calls can be easily eliminated by using drugs to trigger a cellular “suicide gene.”
Senescent cells are cells that have stopped dividing and no longer function. Some are shed naturally, but others accumulate in organs over time.
They have been speculated to have a role in aging.
“We knew that senescent cells were accumulating with age in natural tissues and the thought was: Let’s just start removing these things starting at mid-age in mice and see what the consequences were,” Baker said.
The results suggested “this approach may be useful to treat aspects of age-related functional decline, age-related diseases that involve senescent cells or side effects of therapies that create senescent cells,” the study authors wrote.
A future step in research would be to test the method on already aged mice to see if removing senescent cells can reverse age-related decline.
Since we cannot engineer humans with the suicide gene, the method cannot be directly tested in our own species, Baker explained.
“But there are a variety of groups that we know of that are specifically looking for compounds that can selectively eliminate these senescent cells with age that accumulate in you and I,” he said.
“So it is not a far-fetched idea to think that there will be things that will be coming down the pipeline that influence or remove these senescent cells.”
Aging is associated with a progressive decline in cognitive function as well as physical deterioration, and finding a “cure” has been a long-held dream of science.
In May 2014, researchers reported that injections of young mouse blood boosted learning and memory in older rodents.