As we age, cells within our bodies can become damaged. As a way of helping prevent cancers developing, a biological mechanism called cellular senescence stops these damaged cells from dividing. Researchers at Mayo Clinic have now shown that clearing these senescent cells from the body of mice can improve health and extend their lifespan by up to 35 percent without any apparent adverse side effects.

Although senescent cells are regularly cleared out by the immune system, as we get older this mechanism become less and less effective, resulting in an accumulation of these cells in various tissues and organs over time. And even though they no longer divide, they can still damage adjacent cells and cause chronic inflammation that is closely associated with age-related diseases.

To give the immune system a helping hand in its clean up duties and shed light on the role of senescent cells play in the aging process, Mayo Clinic researchers used a compound called AP20187 to eliminate these cells from mice. After this compound was administered and the senescent cells removed, the researchers say the formation of tumors and deterioration of several organs in the mice was reduced. Treated mice also enjoyed an extension of median lifespan by 17 to 35 percent, while exhibiting a healthier appearance and a reduced inflammation in fat, muscle and kidney tissue.

"Senescent cells that accumulate with aging are largely bad, do bad things to your organs and tissues, and therefore shorten your life but also the healthy phase of your life," says Jan van Deursen, Ph.D., senior author of the paper. "And since you can eliminate the cells without negative side effects, it seems like therapies that will mimic our findings – or our genetic model that we used to eliminate the cells – that drugs or other compounds that can eliminate senescent cells would be useful for therapies against age-related disabilities or diseases or conditions."

First author of the study, Darren Baker, Ph.D., adds that senescent cells also appear a good target for treatment because a clearance rate of only 60 to 70 percent can result in significant health improvements.

"If translatable [to humans], because senescent cells do not proliferate rapidly, a drug could efficiently and quickly eliminate enough of them to have profound impacts on healthspan and lifespan," says Dr. Baker.

Dr. van Deursen and Dr. Baker discuss the research in the video below, while the team's paper is published in Nature.

Source: Mayo Clinic