Work to slow aging moves on a fast track

An aging couple in a (plant) conservatory seem to be laughing.

If aging can be slowed down, the key may lie with a drug that kills off old cells hidden in our blood and organs.

In mice, physical problems and reduced survival can be linked to a heavy burden of old, damaged or dying “senescent” cells, according to work by Medical School professors Laura J. Niedernhofer and Paul D. Robbins and colleagues.

But certain drugs, called senolytic drugs, selectively destroyed some senescent cells, in both young and old mice. One drug stood out: fisetin. Found in many fruits and vegetables, it cleared senescent cells in human adipose tissue and gave old mice longer, healthier lives.

“These results suggest that we can extend the period of health, termed healthspan, even towards the end of life,” said Robbins, who studied fisetin with Niedernhofer, chemistry professor Edgar Arriaga, and other colleagues.

Aging in a nutshell

After years of wear and tear, our cells and DNA age in a process called cellular senescence. Senescent cells release chemical alarm bells that call the immune system in to clear them away. When we’re young, this process goes smoothly and may suppress tumors by removing damaged DNA.

As the years pile on, however, the process becomes less efficient and the senescent cells start to accumulate. This leads to low-level inflammation, and the cells may release enzymes that eat away at healthy tissue. These events are thought to underlie many age-related illnesses.

Covid cure coming?

Niedernhofer, Robbins and colleagues have also observed that fisetin and other senolytics significantly reduced mortality and boosted antiviral antibodies in mice infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and other viruses. They’ve also found evidence that senescent immune cells can promote aging in solid organs. Thus, targeting these immune cells holds promise for extending healthy aging.   

In September 2022, the National Institutes of Health awarded the University of Minnesota a total of $19.2 million to study human senescent cells. Medical School professor David Bernlohr will lead a study to chart the course of senescence in adipose, liver, and brain tissues during normal aging, and Niedernhofer will lead a study to prove that particular characteristics mark human cells as senescent.

Read the original story on the Medical School website.