Eliminating 'senescent' cells in mice delayed age-related ailments

In an intriguing animal study, investigators at the Mayo Clinic created a method for targeting and eliminating "senescent" or aging cells that herald the arrival of age-related diseases. And they found not only were common problems that plague the elderly held at bay, the study mice also retained muscle and strength.

Starting with a mouse model designed to age rapidly, the scientists used the p16 gene--which accumulates in these age-related cells--to track the senescent cells and then utilized it to activate a "suicide" gene in the cells. These senescent cells account for about 15% of the cells in an older person, and the investigators wanted to leave the rest of the healthy cells unmolested.

In one group the investigators cleared the target cells throughout their average 15-month lifespan. In the second group the senescent cells were eliminated late in life. Both groups benefited from the process, with the second batch seeing age-related ailments slowed.

"When they blocked the senescent cell process in mice prone to premature aging, they blocked the development of spinal arthritis, the loss of muscle, thinning of skin--they were all reversed. Mice that should have looked prematurely aged were essentially normal," noted Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, as quoted by USA Today.

These studies obviously have a long way to go before they can relate to humans. Dr. Julian Sage, for example, said in USA Today scientists would have to determine how many of these cells could be eliminated without killing the host. But he's equally intrigued by the possibilities.

- check out the Mayo Clinic release for more
- here's the article from USA Today