Purging cells in mice helps combat aging illness

Scientists discovered the existence of a special category of cells, known as senescent cells, that promote the aging of the tissues. By eliminating these cells from the human body, researchers hope that they could postpone many of the diseases of aging.

Senescent cells accumulate in aging tissues: arthritic knees, cataracts and the plaque that may line elderly arteries. These cells secrete agents that stimulate the immune system, causing inflammation.

Researchers led by Darren J. Baker and Jan M. van Deursen at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester , Minn. , generated a strain of mouse in which all the senescent cells can be purged by giving the mice a drug that forces the cells to self-destruct.

Scientists discovered that the mice’s tissues showed significant improvement after the senescent were destroyed. The mice didn’t develop any of the diseases typical of old age. They also retained the fat layers which normally get thinner with age.

“I am very excited by the results,” said Dr. Norman E. Sharpless, an expert on aging at the University of North Carolina. “It suggests therapies that might work in real patients.”

This is the first research that demonstrates that the removal of senescent cells in the body is beneficial.

If the study is confirmed, it “will be considered a fundamental advance by our field,” Dr. Sharpless said.