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"Fountain of youth" drug could significantly extend human life, study finds

[July 4, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]

Senolytic drugs can stimulate the creation of an essential protein, potentially safeguarding seniors from aging effects and various health conditions. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

As the search for the fountain of youth continues, scientists are making strides in developing ways to extend human life expectancy. In the not-so-distant future, protecting our cells from aging might be as straightforward as taking a pill. A groundbreaking discovery by the Mayo Clinic reveals that senolytic drugs can stimulate the creation of an essential protein, potentially safeguarding seniors from aging effects and various health conditions. These exciting findings are highlighted in the scientific journal eBioMedicine, substantiated by experiments conducted on both mice and humans.

The senolytic compounds, pioneered by the Mayo Clinic, effectively cleanse the bloodstream of senescent, or so-called "zombie" cells when given. These cells play a role in many diseases and undesirable aspects of aging. The research uncovers that the removal of these senescent cells leads to a substantial boost in the generation of a protective protein known as a-klotho.


What are zombie cells?

"Zombie cells," officially known as senescent cells, are stubborn, persistent cells that, against all odds, refuse to die within our body.

Under normal circumstances, a cell begins its life as a healthy and integral part of our bodily functions. Nonetheless, it may face a range of threats such as oxidative stress, the invasion of a virus, or other harmful elements. Faced with these threats, the cell has a trio of potential pathways: it can attempt self-repair, succumb to cell death, or morph into a state of senescence, earning the nickname of a "zombie" cell.


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While "zombie" cells might seem to be undesirable at first glance, they don't always have negative implications. A study published in 2017 suggests that the transformation of normal cells into "zombie" cells, a process known as cellular senescence, can sometimes be a beneficial reaction to tumor formation. Rather than proliferating uncontrollably and fostering tumor growth, a cell may morph into a "zombie" state, thus arresting its own development.

However, "zombie" cells can also pose detrimental effects under certain circumstances. As we grow older, these "zombie" cells begin to amass within our bodies. This buildup can hinder the body's capacity to mend damaged tissues and may instigate the dispersal of injurious chemicals which impact neighboring healthy cells. Research has linked the presence of these "zombie" cells to various age-related diseases such as atherosclerosis (a type of heart disease), diabetes, and lung disease.


The impact of senolytic drugs

Senolytics medications, known for their unique ability to eliminate senescent or "zombie" cells, constitute a specialized group of drugs. "We show that there is an avenue for an orally active, small-molecule approach to increase this beneficial protein and also to amplify the action of senolytic drugs," says James Kirkland, M.D., Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic internist and senior author of the study.

Graphical abstract of Senolytics. (CREDIT: Mayo Clinic)

Initially, the scientists demonstrated that senescent cells lower the concentration of a-klotho in three categories of human cells: cells from the umbilical vein endothelium, kidney cells, and brain cells.


The researchers demonstrated that by using senolytics desatinib and quercetin in three different mouse models, a-klotho levels were increased. Following the administration of desatinib and quercetin in clinical trial participants with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a-klotho levels were also found to increase.

Yi Zhu, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic physiologist and biomedical engineer, and the study's first author, states, "We are the first to establish a connection between the potential influence of fat-resident senescent cells on brain a-klotho. This could provide another path to explore the effects of peripheral senescent cells on brain aging."

The protein a-klotho plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health. Its levels tend to decline as people age and are particularly reduced in various diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes, and kidney disease.

Research on animals has revealed that reducing a-klotho in mice results in a shorter lifespan, while increasing a-klotho levels by inserting a gene that triggers its production can extend their lifespan by 30%.


Increasing a-klotho levels in humans has been a significant objective in research; however, achieving this has been challenging due to its large size and instability. Direct introduction poses issues, as it necessitates intravenous administration rather than oral consumption.

The current research demonstrates that senolytics, which can be taken orally, boost a-klotho levels in individuals suffering from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a condition linked to senescence that results in frailty, severe breathing problems, and death.

This study received support from various organizations, including the National Institute of Health, the Translational Geroscience Network, Robert and Arlene Kogod, the Connor Group, Robert J. and Theresa W. Ryan, and the Noaber Foundation.

Where can you get senolytic drugs?

The senolytic drug dasatinib isn’t available as an over-the-counter drug. But quercetin is available in supplement form.


You can also ramp up your quercetin intake by eating more onions, apples (with the skin!), citrus fruits, and parsley. It can’t hurt, and these delicious foods are easy to find at your grocery store or local farmer’s market.

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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