The Buck Institute for Research On Aging in California and the Erasmus University in the Netherlands may have found a solution to ageing. They have developed what was described as a chemical torpedo, which they injected into mice, and it went straight to the senescent cells and killed them and left the healthy cells alone. Scientists have long believed that it is the senescent cells that cause ageing in people. However being able to get rid of them, and making sure that the normal and healthy cells aren’t hurt, has been something of a challenge.
Dr Francis Rodeir from the University of Montreal said that this has been the first time that researchers have been able to show that they can actually do away with senescent cells with there being no side effects. The old mice were given the drug and then their straggly fur began to regrow until they had coats that were luscious, while researchers also saw improvements to the kidney and liver functions of the mice. The mice were more energetic and instead of sleeping, as they had been previously, they took to running around on the wheel in their cage.
ANTI-AGEING DRUG SOON TO BE TESTED IN HUMANS
The drug given to the mice wasn’t a synthetic chemical; instead, it was a small peptide consisting of amino acid, which is said to be the building block of protein. Peptide drugs have previously been used in stroke therapy and researchers said that they will begin trials on human safety soon. This research has given the first real glimmer of hope for being able to destroy senescent cells in people and it is said to be a landmark advance in that field.
THE DARKER SIDE OF SENESCENT CELLS
When people age their cells accumulate damage to the DNA. While the cells do have mechanics that may be able to remedy minor problems, the damage does eventually become too much and this leaves the cell with a choice, either self-destruct, become cancerous or go into senescence. The senescent cells were originally thought to be helpful as they thwarted dangerous tumor formations. However a decade ago everything changed. Researchers found that the senescent cells actually secreted a lot of junk and that had a negative effect. Whether or not the darker side of the senescent cells pushes ageing isn’t known.
RESULTS THAT SHOCKED RESEARCHERS
Mice were genetically modified in Minnesota at the Mayo Clinic and the bodies killed off around 50% to 70% of the senescent cells automatically. Following treatment of six months, the mice showed they had stronger hearts, kidneys that were healthier and they also lived 20% longer. The researchers had never expected to see an improvement that was so dramatic. The study revealed that senescent cells without a shadow of a doubt contributed to ageing. If the senescent cells could be stopped then the ageing clock would also be stopped. But the biggest question for the researchers is how to make that work in a human being.
HANDCUFF P53 WITH FOX04, P53 BECOMES USELESS
The team headed by De Keizer then came up with a great solution, if they find out what stops the senescent cells from committing suicide and then destroy it. They then found an attack strategy. DNA mutations in cells spur a protein with the name of p53 into acting and this, in turn, starts the apoptosis program. The senescent cell has a protein by the name of FOX04 and clings onto the p53 and doesn’t let go and so stops the p35 from doing what it does. The researchers then came up with the peptide drug that pushes its way in-between p53 and FOX04, freeing up the death protein and then convinces the cell to go into self-destruction.
Healthy cells have only low levels of FOX04, if they have any, so they are not affected by the effect of the drug. Peptide drugs have been too big to go into cells and this is one of the reasons why so few are found on the market. However, the researchers turned to technology that has only just become popular, cell penetrating peptides. They are peptides that are able to work their way into cells and organs following injection, making them more easily adapted to be used in human beings. Mice that had aged faster than usual were given the peptide and while the mice were only middle-aged, they had been in bad shape when the treatment began. Most had patches on their coat, along with having a posture that was hunched and was frail and lethargic. After just four weeks of the injections of the peptide, they showed dramatic transformation. Hair loss wasn’t something that had initially been planned on giving though to, yet the results simply could not be ignored, as the mice had regrown luscious coats.
The peptide injections rebooted the kidneys of the mice and they began filtering out chemicals that were toxic from their blood and they perked up. The mice had increased energy and no longer lay in their cages. The researchers likened the findings to an elderly person who used to walk with a bent back to suddenly jump up off the sofa and entering a marathon.
The researchers concluded that the peptide does seem to be a drug that is potent in restoring health following natural ageing. It could be a game changer in the fight against senescent cells and disease that they bring about. The team plan on testing the peptide first in people suffering an aggressive brain tumor, first trying it out in a dish and eventually moving on to people. Should the drug continue to remain safe, they will then consider testing it on ageing itself along with diseases that are age related.