ROCHESTER, Minn., Feb. 3 (UPI) -- New research proves senescent cells reduce a mouse's lifespan by as much as 35 percent. When scientists at the Mayo Clinic removed senescent cells, mice lived longer without negative side effects.
Senescent cells are those that no longer divide and accumulate as the body ages.
"Cellular senescence is a biological mechanism that functions as an 'emergency brake' used by damaged cells to stop dividing," Jan van Deursen, chair of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Mayo Clinic, explained in a news release. "While halting cell division of these cells is important for cancer prevention, it has been theorized that once the 'emergency brake' has been pulled, these cells are no longer necessary."
Van Deursen is the lead author of a new study on senescent cells -- or the absence of them -- in mice, published this week in the journal Nature.
The immune systems of humans, mice and other animals regularly rid the body of senescent cells, but as the body ages, this cleansing function becomes less efficient.
Van Deursen used a transgene to enable drug-induced elimination of senescent cells in groups of lab mice. The treatment prolonged the formation of tumors, improved organ health and bolstered the rodents' appearance -- diminishing inflammation in fat, muscle and kidney tissue.
They also lived longer, between 17 and 35 percent longer. And all without any negative side effects.
"Senescent cells that accumulate with aging are largely bad, do bad things to your organs and tissues, and therefore shorten your life but also the healthy phase of your life," van Deursen said. "And since you can eliminate the cells without negative side effects, it seems like therapies that will mimic our findings -- or our genetic model that we used to eliminate the cells -- like drugs or other compounds that can eliminate senescent cells would be useful for therapies against age-related disabilities or diseases or conditions."
Study author Darren Baker, also a molecular biologist at the Mayo Clinic, said clearance of just 60 to 70 percent of senescent genes can have significant therapeutic effects.
"If translatable, because senescent cells do not proliferate rapidly, a drug could efficiently and quickly eliminate enough of them to have profound impacts on health span and lifespan."