It’s been a while since I’ve faithfully read The Wall Street Journal. When our previous subscription ended it seemed a blessing. No more stacks of unread papers. No feeling guilty that I’d not perused its contents for the latest news, or that money was being wasted. But after months of indecision we gave into subscribing, where before the subscription had been a gift from a former client of my husband’s.
Every so often an article catches my eye that seems of particular relevance, for whatever reason. In this instance it’s to do with getting older. Always an intriguing topic at this stage in my life, I thought it might appeal to some of you as well.
Cell Study Finds a Way to Slow Ravages of Age
by Shirley S. Wang
Scientists may have found a way to put off some conditions of aging, according to a study in which they postponed or even prevented such afflictions as cataracts and wrinkle-inducing fat loss in mice by removing cells that had stopped dividing.
Most young, healthy cells divide continuously in order to keep body tissues and organs functioning properly, but eventually stop splitting–a state called senescence–and are replaced by others. Senescence occurs throughout life, but people’s ability to clear such cells from their bodies decreases with age, leading to a buildup.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., found for the first time that by using a drug to target and kill senescent cells, they could essentially freeze some aspects of the aging process.
Though the research, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, is in its very early stages, it suggests that senescent-cell clearance could be one path to staying healthy while aging.
“If you could clear senescent cells, you perhaps could treat age-related diseases as a group rather than individually,” said Jan van Deursen, senior author of the paper and a professor in the departments of biochemistry and pediatric and adolescent medicine at Mayo.
The importance of cell senescence to the aging process has long been suspected. But the latest finding demonstrates definitively that these cells play a role in age-related conditions, according to Felipe Sierra, director of the division of aging biology at the National Institute on Aging, who wasn’t involved in the study.
When cells become senescent, they produce harmful compounds such as those that cause inflammation. Chronic tissue inflammation with aging is thought to underlie dementia, atherosclerosis and diabetes, among other ills, according to James Kirkland, head of Mayo’s Center on Aging, who was also an author of the study.
Senescent cells make up only a small portion of cells–some 5% or less–in the tissue of elderly people, but their effects can be widespread, the researchers said.
Because senescence is believed to have developed as a defense against cancer, in which cells divide uncontrollably, simply halting the process could be dangerous.
But scientists have wondered for decades if the damage inflicted by senescent cells could be stopped if they were removed from the body altogether, or if the harmful substances they produced were neutralized.
In the study reported on Wednesday, the team used mice designed to age faster than normal and treated them with a drug that identifies cells that have stopped dividing. The drug then initiates the natural process that leads to cell death by puncturing the membranes of those cells alone.
The researchers treated some mice over the course of their lifetimes and found a “quite dramatic delay” in the development of cataracts and age-related changes to muscle and fat, Dr. van Deursen said.
In other mice, the compound was administered in old age. Clearance of senescent cells in those mice didn’t reverse the decline that had already occurred but prevented further deterioration.
The drug appeared to clear out only senescent cells, not normal ones, and the animals didn’t appear to suffer any side effects, the researcher said.
Extensive research is still necessary to test whether the clearance of senescent cells would have the same effect in mice that age normally and whether there are different effects in different tissues, such as the brain as compared with muscle tissue, said Dr. Sierra of the National Institute on Aging.
Another question is whether continuous clearance of senescent cells is needed to produce health benefits, or whether intermittent removal–a spring cleaning of sorts–is just as effective, the study’s authors said.
The work was funded by the Mayo Clinic, as well as several private foundations and philanthropists interested in promoting research into aging.
A lot of information to digest. But if you’re curious like me, there’s so much that’s intriguing about life from its inception to its demise, that I’m all ears and eyes when it comes to learning the intricacies of our bodies and what makes them tick. And sometimes, we can garner a tip or two about enhancing the quality of our lives…
…while the clock continues to…tick-tock…tick-tock…