Is It Possible to Safely Eliminate Senescent Cells and Reduce the Signs of Aging?
Senescent cells plague us even if we aren’t elders. Studies have shown that aging cells can have a strong detrimental effect on the body from the moment they develop, causing increased amounts of plaque in arteries and contributing to serious conditions such as heart disease. While past research failed to produce practically viable treatments designed to selectively dispose of these cells, researchers have recently developed a molecule that could do that without any negative side effects.
Aging and Senescent Cells
Senility and other aging-related impediments could be a thing of the past after scientists have proven they can get rid of senescent cells in mice for good. In the past, mouse studies have shown it is possible to prolong life by genetically programming the mice to discard these cells, but the treatments were not deemed as practical for humans. Now researchers have tested seven different senolytic compounds designed to kill senescent cells more efficiently. Two of the drugs were proven particularly effective in patients with kidney disease, however, even they come with various drawbacks, such as lowering the number of platelets which assist in the coagulation of blood.
A Promising New Approach to Killing Off Senescent Cells
Molecular biologists at the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands have closely studied the process through which senescent cells survive. They have discovered that a specific protein known as p53 has the role of killing them off when they are detected. However, another protein, FOXO4, prevents p53 from performing its task by latching onto it. This discovery led cell biologist Peter de Keizer and his team to design a special peptide that would counteract the effect of FOXO4. The molecule, carrying a shortened form of the FOXO4 protein, can successfully prevent it from connecting to the p53 protein, thus rendering it inactive. The molecule was first tested successfully in a petri dish, then injected into rapidly aging mouse models. The mouse models were designed to live half of the normal lifespan of their unaltered counterparts, and after 6 months their kidneys began to fail, and clear signs of aging were visible. Upon injecting the peptide, however, this effect was reversed, and the mice seemed revitalized. Similar effects were observed when the peptide was injected in normally aging mouse models, which also became less sluggish.
The Future Looks Bright
Although the research looks promising, there are still many loose ends, as diabetes researcher James Kirkland of the Mayo Clinic pointed out. Since the digestive system would destroy the peptide, it has to be either inhaled or injected, and there is no option for developing a tablet that could deliver it seamlessly into the body. Moreover, the molecule can trigger potentially fatal reactions in cancer patients, and since senescent cells play a role in wound healing, destroying them could impair that ability. However, promising results are still on the horizon. For example, the peptide did not reduce the number of platelets in either of the mouse models it was tested on. The next step, according to De Keizer, should be to try to adapt the treatment to cancer patients, instead of attempting to help aging patients in their 90s. The peptide can be adapted to various forms of cancerous tumors, since there are similarities to senescent cells. If the treatment proves effective and safe in people suffering from conditions like the brain tumor glioblastoma, age-related diseases, or even aging itself could become the next target.