New research published in the EBioMedicine journal documents a potentially major breakthrough in the treatment of the human ageing process. A team of scientists from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota have conducted the first human trials for a cocktail of drugs that have been shown to kill of senescent cells in mice and monkeys – zombie cells whose DNA has been damaged through multiple divisions to the point they no longer divide.
Senescent cells release toxins which have been strongly linked to a host of age-related conditions from lung function to cardiovascular health, arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes and dementia. While we don’t yet know exactly how the toxins released by senescent cells influence these conditions, their accumulation in wrinkled skin and in cataracts as well as the fact their concentration is seen to increase as humans enter their sixties has led scientists to the conclusion they are somehow intrinsically intertwined with the ageing process.
The trial carried out involved nine patients with diabetes-related kidney disease who were all given drugs normally used to treat cancer in combination a compound found in fruit and vegetables. The result was a 30% drop in the concentration of senescent cells in their fat tissue, while blood levels also fell to a lesser extent.
The trials back up another recent trial involving patients with the fatal lung disease idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – all of whom were in their seventies. In this case the frailty of the patients meant the biopsies needed to measure senescent cell levels were not possible. However, while lacking the same level of detail as the more recent Mayo Clinic trials, when given a similar combination of drugs there were notable empirical improvements in their health, such as a renewed ability to get out of a chair.
The study’s co-author James Kirkland believes that the initial findings offer the prospect of a genuine breakthrough in alleviating common chronic conditions that impact the quality of life of millions as we age:
“It may be possible to delay, prevent and alleviate age-related diseases as a group, instead of going after them one at a time….We increase life-span as a side-effect of these drugs. What we’re looking for is to improve quality of life. We don’t want to have people living to 130 and feeling like they’re 130. It would be good if they could live to 90 and feel like they’re 40.”