Clearing away old cells slows aging ... in mice

Sweeping away so-called senescent cells -- aging cells that have stopped dividing -- can slow aging-related ailments, including cataracts and muscle loss, in mice, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said.

According to the scientists’ study, which was published online Wednesday in the journal Nature, the role of senescent cells in aging-related disorders is not well understood.

Senescence has a purpose: It slows the proliferation of damaged cells in the body, and thus plays a role in halting the growth of cancers. But researchers also suspect that senescent cells play a role in aging-related decline -- that they accumulate in tissues and organs over time, pumping out chemicals that disrupt tissue structure and function.

To test this idea, the Mayo team genetically engineered mice so their senescent cells could be wiped out by administering a drug. They gave the drug to some mice from the time they were very young, and to others after age-related complications had already set in. In both cases, killing off the senescent cells slowed the aging-related disorders.


If the discovery proves applicable in humans, it may suggest a promising new approach for battling the illnesses and discomforts of old age, the senior author of the study said in a statement.

“Therapeutic interventions to get rid of senescent cells or block their effects may represent an avenue to make us feel more vital, healthier, and allow us to stay independent for a much longer time,” Mayo Clinic molecular biologist Jan van Deursen said.

Return to the Booster Shots blog.