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Purging human senescent cells may bring healthier aging

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Old Mister Chubby on the right had his senescent cells purged

In a potentially fundamental advance, researchers have opened up a novel approach to combating the effects of aging with the discovery that a special category of cells, known as senescent cells, are bad actors that promote the aging of the tissues. Cleansing the body of the cells, they hope, could postpone many of the diseases of aging…

Senescent cells accumulate in aging tissues, like arthritic knees, cataracts and the plaque that may line elderly arteries. The cells secrete agents that stimulate the immune system and cause low-level inflammation. Until now, there has been no way to tell if the presence of the cells is good, bad or indifferent.

The answer turns out to be that the cells hasten aging in the tissues in which they accumulate. In a delicate feat of genetic engineering, a research team led by Darren J. Baker and Jan M. van Deursen at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., has generated a strain of mouse in which all the senescent cells can be purged by giving the mice a drug that forces the cells to self-destruct.

Rid of the senescent cells, the Mayo Clinic researchers reported online Wednesday in the journal Nature, the mice’s tissues showed a major improvement in the usual burden of age-related disorders. They did not develop cataracts, avoided the usual wasting of muscle with age, and could exercise much longer on a mouse treadmill. They retained the fat layers in the skin that usually thin out with age and, in people, cause wrinkling…

In both mice and people, senescent cells are few in number but have major effects on the body’s tissues. Killing the cells should therefore have large benefits with little downside. The gene-altering approach used on the mice cannot be tried in people, but now that senescent cells appear to be harmful, researchers can devise ways of targeting them…

The Mayo Clinic finding “is a really important step forward for the field,” said Dr. Judith Campisi of the Buck Institute.

The purpose of research on aging, she said, is not to let people live a thousand years, as portrayed in science fiction, but to increase health span, the proportion of people’s natural lives that they live in good health.

Bravo! There’s always a new turn in scientific research. Many lead nowhere; but, it only takes the odd success to validate the essential process.

Ray Kurzweil should send these folks a bottle of champagne. This parallels the directions of his Singularity.

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Written by Ed Campbell

November 7, 2011 at 2:00 am

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