How scientists are testing cancer drugs to slow down aging

(Alice Park/ Time) — Aging is a perfectly natural process, but that doesn’t mean that humans won’t try everything in their power to slow it down. In recent years, researchers who study aging have become intrigued by the idea of slowing the march of time by ridding the body of its population of older cells.

In a new study published in Nature Medicine, scientists led by Dr. James Kirkland, director of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging at Mayo Clinic, show that the proportion of older, aging cells in mice is indeed related to aging-related symptoms, from frailty to lower endurance and slower walking speeds. Kirkland and his team also demonstrated that a combination of drugs, borrowed from the cancer world, can wipe out these older cells and even prompt younger cells to develop and replace them.

In the study, which was done in several stages, Kirkland and his colleagues first took different amounts of senescent (or aging) cells from older mice, tagged them with fluorescent proteins that would make them trackable, and transplanted them into younger mice. Compared to young mice that had received placebo cells, the animals with the senescent cell transplants started to walk more slowly, and weren’t able to hang on to a rod as long or grip as strongly after a month.

When the researchers analyzed the location of the cells, they found that they had spread to different tissues in the body beyond where they had been originally transplanted. In fact, they calculated that if only one in 7,000 to 15,000 cells is senescent, then age-related problems in physical function started to appear in the mice. (…)

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