Society has always had an obsession with the ageing process or rather how to hide, slow or stop it. Whether by creams, treatments or drugs, the idea is not a new one. Recently researchers in the US have successfully managed to halt three symptoms of old age in mice, and even reverse their ageing, with the hope that one day the quality of life can be improved in elderly humans.
The symptoms including wrinkles, cataracts and Muscle atrophy have been halted in a study by Dr James Kirkland and Dr Jan Van Deursen from the Mayo clinic in the US. They devised a way to kill all senescent cells in genetically engineered mice. Senescent cells are cells which have stopped dividing and help prevent tumours from progressing. Although they are often cleared out by the immune system, they build up over time leading to the symptoms of ageing.
Researchers found that the onset of these symptoms was dramatically delayed when the mice were treated with the drug that targeted the senescent cells. When it was given to mice who had been allowed to age, there was an improvement in muscle function. By injecting the mice with a drug, they were able to cause the senescent cells to self-destruct; this stopped the signs of and illnesses associated with ageing in the mice.
“All these three age-related diseases were strongly delayed. Some animals didn’t even develop them at all,” van Deursen said.
The aim of the experiment is not to find the key to immortality, but rather to help develop a new drug or therapy to defeat ageing signs. Dr Van Deursen predicts that it may take the form of either a drug that will directly target the senescent cells or a therapy that helps boost the immune system during old age; helping said system destroy the cells, as it more effectively would at a younger age.
Dr Jesus Gil from the medical Research council’s clinical science centre warned that the findings needed to be taken with caution as the studies are is still in preliminary stages. However, if you can get rid of senescent cells, it would become possible to improve phenotypes associated with ageing and improve the quality of life, as although living a long life is desirable, it is not attainable if the quality of that life is poor.
As Dr Van Deursen expects, it will take many additional years of research to conclude the findings in the laboratory; “It provides a new tool to interfere with the ageing process and age-related diseases, and there aren’t so many tools available right now.”
The studies have also opened up a pathway to help combat other age related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.