Eliminating cells that accumulate with age may help to prevent or delay the onset of age-related diseases and disabilities, a new study has found.
Researchers at Mayo Clinic genetically engineered mice so that their senescent cells harboured a molecule called caspase 8 that was only turned on in the presence of a drug that has no effect on normal cells.
When the transgenic mice were exposed to this drug, caspase 8 was activated in the senescent cells, drilling holes in the cell membrane to specifically kill the senescent cells.
They found that lifelong elimination of senescent cells delayed the onset of age-related disorders such as cataracts and muscle loss and weakness.
Perhaps even more importantly, they found that removing these cells later in life could slow the progression of already established age-related disorders.
“By attacking these cells and what they produce, one day we may be able to break the link between aging mechanisms and predisposition to diseases like heart disease, stroke, cancers and dementia,” James Kirkland, co-author of the study, said.
“There is potential for a fundamental change in the way we provide treatment for chronic diseases in older people,” he said.
Cells undergo a limited number of divisions before they stop dividing but at that point the cells reach a state of limbo, cellular senescence, where they neither die nor continue to multiply, producing factors that damage adjacent cells and cause tissue inflammation.
The study has been published in the journal Nature.