A Japanese study team announced the development of a vaccine to eradicate zombie cells that increase with age and destroy surrounding cells, resulting in aging-related disorders such as arterial stiffness.
The study, conducted by Juntendo University professor Toru Minamino, discovered that mice given the vaccination had lower levels of zombie cells, also known as senescent cells, and in areas affected by vascular stiffening.
“We can expect that (the vaccine) will be applied to the treatment of arterial stiffening, diabetes, and other aging-related diseases,” Minamino said.
Senescent cells have ceased dividing but have not died. Instead, they create inflammation by releasing chemicals that harm neighboring healthy cells.
“Senescent cells secrete a series of factors that disrupt the function of the tissue,” Dr. Salvador Macip, head of the University of Leicester’s Mechanisms of Cancer and Ageing Lab, said in an interview.
“They ‘call’ cells from the immune system, in theory, to be cleared by them (but that eventually fails) and create a chronic low-level inflammation, mixed with fibrosis,” Macip said.
The researchers discovered a protein prevalent in both mice and human senescent cells. They developed a peptide vaccination based on one of the protein’s amino acids. The vaccine induces antibodies to form, which attach to senescent cells and are then eliminated by white blood cells that adhere to the antibodies.
“The biological process of aging is very complex; therefore, it is unlikely that one single strategy will completely stop it or reverse it. However, there are probably many ways to slow it down, and clearing senescent cells seems to be one of the easiest and potentially more effective,” he said.
In lab testing, Macip discovered that decreasing the formation of senescent cells increased the lifespan of mice by 15%. Other equivalent tests, he claims, have revealed a 35 percent increase.
“This is a very interesting question and one that we still have not agreed upon. Some believe there is a ‘hard’ limit for human lifespan (around 130 years is the current estimate), while others think that, on paper, immortality should be feasible,” Macip said.
“It’s still early to know how much life can be extended and whether there’s a limit or not.”
However, the solution is not far distant.
“The field of anti-aging research is advancing very fast. In the last decade, there have been many key discoveries. The person that will take the first anti-aging pill has probably already been born.” Macip added.