Scientists have found yet another way to help mice live longer (a subject we’ve written about several times before). The hope of course is that these treatments will also work for humans. The goal isn’t just lengthening life; it’s improving the quality of life. “One of the theories in the aging field is that if you target fundamental aging mechanisms, you may be able to hit multiple age-related diseases and disabilities as a group instead of hitting them one at a time,” said James Kirkland, head of the Mayo Clinic Kogod Center on Aging. This could include everything from mobility issues to Alzheimer’s.
The newest mouse-tested treatment works by “killing zombie-like cells” as the Washington Post puts it. These zombie cells are also known as senescent cells. Senescent cells are cells which have stopped reproducing but also resist dying. So they just hang around and damage the surrounding cells and tissues.
Scientists tested a new class of drugs called senolytics on mice that were 2 years old (about the equivalent of being 80 years old for a human). The senolytics successfully killed the “zombie” cells without harming the surrounding healthy cells, resulting in improved heart function and delaying the onset of age-related conditions such as osteoporosis.
Kirkland said there’s a good chance these results could be duplicated in humans, but warned people against jumping to conclusions too quickly. One potential issue is that senescent “zombie” cells also have positive benefits, and we don’t know what would happen if too many were killed off all at once. For now, more research is still needed.