In the 21st century, people are living longer than ever, and a greater percentage of the population is elderly than ever before. Unfortunately, some of the physical changes we experience as we age are a decline in muscle tone, diminished sensory processes, and decreased flexibility in motor skills. The good news is, by remaining physically and mentally active, we can potentially affect our biological and psychological age, if not chronological age. But soon there might be another way to slow down or even remove some of the effects of aging.
According to the New York Times, scientists at the Mayo Clinic have determined that senescent cells, or cells that have stopped dividing, are responsible for promoting tissue aging. Their study was published in Nature. Senescent cells accumulate in aging tissues and cause inflammation. The research team experimented with two groups of fast-aging mice and created a drug that caused the senescent cells to self-destruct. The first group of mice had their senescent cells destroyed right away, and they did not develop cataracts, did not experience loss of muscle tone, retained fat layers and therefore avoided wrinkling, and their activity level was higher. The second group of mice weren't given the drug until they were middle aged. Although they had already developed cataracts, the aging process was still delayed in their muscles and they retained their fat. The bad news is, the drug didn't appear to work on the heart or liver. Also, the mice didn't live longer - they just lived healthier. Next, the researchers will perform the same tests with ordinary mice to see whether their lives can be extended through the removal of the senescent cells.
Although mice and humans age differently, this research seems promising to me. It shows that perhaps some human, age-related problems could be avoided or delayed through the removal of senescent cells. I hope that others will attempt to replicate these results. But scientists would also need to determine whether senescent cells provide any benefits before simply destroying them. Additionally, they'd need to consider issues like how to safely remove the cells from humans, whether there would be side effects, how many cells would need to be removed, whether they should be removed once or over time, and at what point(s) in the life cycle to remove them. Someday this may prove to be the answer for those looking for a way to reduce certain effects of aging.