The targeted elimination of certain cells may prevent and slow the physical signs of aging, according to a recent study from researchers at the Mayo Clinic.
A certain drug treatment in mice prevented the onset of cataracts. The drug also slowed the progression of muscle wasting, as well as preventing the thinning of fat that leads to wrinkles.
The drug eliminated “senescent cells,” cells that are no longer viable and have stopped dividing. Our bodies use cellular senescence to halt the progression of malignant tumor cells.
Prior to the study, the link between senescent cells and aging signs was unclear. Now, researchers know that cellular senescence causes tissue aging. There is a buildup of these cells in aging tissues, such as the tissue of cataracts and arthritic joints. Not only do the cells accumulate in these tissues, they accelerate the aging of the tissues.
The researchers used genetically engineered mice that aged rapidly. Young mice that were treated with the drug did not develop signs of cataracts and other signs of aging. Mice that were not treated with the drug until middle age already had cataracts that could not be reversed.
Implications for Healthspan
The gene-flushing of the mice cannot be performed in humans, but the findings of the study hold important implications for preventing cataracts and other signs of aging.
The study did not look at whether removing senescent cells extends lifespan. Instead, the removal of the cells extends what can be called “healthspan” as we age. After all, living longer than ever before loses much of its appeal if those years are spent living with age-related diseases and maladies. The researchers plan to undertake another study in which the mice will not be engineered to age rapidly. In that study, they aim to discover if removing senescent cells will also extend lifespan.
Throughout our lives, our immune systems remove some of our senescent cells. As we age, our bodies remove these cells less efficiently and senescent cells begin to accumulate more rapidly.
While cells cannot be removed from humans like they were in the mice, the finding of the link between senescent cells and tissue degeneration may provide scientists with a new direction for combating cataracts and other signs of aging. Drugs or therapies could be developed to boost the immune system so that it continues to remove senescent cells in old age. There is also the possibility that drugs could be developed that would target and remove senescent cells in humans.
To learn more about cataracts and cataract treatment, please contact an experienced eye doctor in your area.