Researchers have found that getting rid of certain aging cells may help people live longer, according to a new study done in genetically engineered mice.
In the study – published Wednesday (Feb. 3) in the journal Nature – the researchers gave medications (that killed ‘aging’ cells) to genetically engineered mice, when they reached midlife.
The results showed that the mice that received the drug lived longer, compared with the other mice that did not have their ‘aging’ cells removed. However, more research needs to be conducted to see whether this method would also hold true in people, because the mice used in the study were genetically engineered so that only their aging cells would be killed by the drug.
Christin Burd, an assistant professor of molecular genetics at The Ohio State University (who was not involved in the study), said that the drug only worked in mice because the animals were transgenic – able to express foreign genes because their genetic code was similar for all organisms – and transgenic humans cannot be made.
For the study, the researchers focused on “aging” or senescent cells – which are dysfunctional cells that have stopped dividing; they have been previously linked with age-dependent diseases.
The researchers developed genetically engineered mice, and when the animals were twelve months old (reached midlife) they injected them with a drug to kill off all the ‘aging’ cells. A control group of mice that were injected with a placebo solution were also included in the new study.
Researchers found that the mice whose aging cells had been killed off lived longer, and their life span increased by 24 to 27 percent, compared with the animals from the control group.
The mice that were injected with the drug were also less likely to develop certain age-related conditions, such as deteriorations of the heart function and kidneys, as well as cataracts, compared with the mice who received the placebo injection.
Jesus Gil, a professor of cell proliferation at the Institute of Clinical Science’s Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London, and Professor Dominic Withers, Clinical Chair in Diabetes & Endocrinology at Imperial College London, said that the findings prove that the removal of senescent cells does in fact increase healthy life span in mice and delays aging.
However, Withers and Gil also pointed out that senescent cells play an important role in certain processes, like the healing of wounds. Overall, the new study found that the removal of senescent cells had limited side effects, but further researchers still needs to be conducted to see whether senescence-based therapies can have consequences, Withers and Gil noted.
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