Anti-ageing drugs now within reach, scientists say
The fabled fountain of youth is no longer confined to the realms of fantasy, with scientists claiming that anti-aging drugs that extend life and keep old bodies youthful are on the way.
Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, made the prediction after extending the life of mice by as much as 35 percent and delaying the onset of heart and kidney damage, cancer and even cataracts.
The treated mice reportedly looked healthier and were more active and inquisitive in old age, moreover.
According to the journal Nature, the effects were achieved by giving the animals a drug that cleared away old and worn out cells known as senescent cells.
As we age, our skin wrinkles, our hearing fades and our eyesight deteriorates, caused by a process known as senescence, which is the natural course of ageing.
Senescent cells no longer divide and multiply, which means they can’t make the new cells needed to help keep the body and its organs young.
Instead, they pump out chemicals and hormones that damage neighbouring cells and while the immune system regularly clears them out, it is thought it finds this more difficult as we age.
The Mayo Clinic researchers used a drug to kill the senescent cells in lab mice, injecting it fortnightly from the time the animals were 12 months old – middle-aged for a mouse.
The benefits were reportedly dramatic, had no side-effects, and were seen in males and females, as well as mice from different strains and on different diets.
Researcher Darren Baker said it should not be necessary to eliminate all senescent cells in humans.
“The advantage of targeting senescent cells is that clearance of just 60 to 70 percent can have significant therapeutic effects,” he said.
“A drug could quickly eliminate enough of them to have profound effects on health and lifespan.”
The drug Baker used on mice would not be suitable for humans, but other medicines are within reach.
“There are a variety of groups specifically looking for compounds that can selectively eliminate these senescent cells, so it is not a far-fetched idea to think that these things are coming through the pipeline,” he said.
In an accompanying commentary piece, British experts in the biology of ageing cautioned that senescent cells have important functions, including helping with wound healing and protecting against cancer.
They also indicated that removing senescent cells didn’t ease all the ills of old age, having no effect on memory or muscle strength, for example.
The approach is nevertheless thought to hold promise.
Professor Dominic Withers, of Imperial College London, commented: “A search for compounds that can selectively eliminate senescent cells is underway and could be an important step in translating the findings to combating diseases of ageing in humans.”