Scientists are getting closer to figuring out how to delay the onset of arthritis, cataracts, and other maladies associated with old age, according to recent research.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic conducted a study that discovered that the removal of certain types of inactive cells helped mice that were experiencing common issues of aging.
"Senescent cells" are those that have stopped dividing but don't actually die. Although it originally developed as a biological safeguard against the out-of-control cell division that is a hallmark of cancer, senescence has negative consequences of its own.
An aging person slowly becomes less capable of purging senescent cells from their body. This causes the cells to gather in certain areas, secreting inflammatory chemicals that can damage tissues. It is this tissue damage that is the root cause of things like arthritis, age-related muscle loss, and cataracts.
But, in this most recent study, the researchers demonstrated that treatment to help elderly mice get rid of these cells either delayed or stopped the progression of certain age-related diseases.
The authors believe that their study holds great promise for the future of healthy aging. "There is potential for a fundamental change in the way we provide treatment for chronic diseases in older people," says James Kirkland, head of the Mayo Clinic's Center on Aging.
However, experts caution that there is still a long way to go before reliable treatments can be developed for use in human beings.
The mice used in the Mayo Clinic study were specifically designed to age faster than normal so the next step for research will be to conduct a study on normally aging mice, and then on human beings.
Also, there is still the question of how many senescent cells need to be removed to see an effect and when. About 10-15% of an elderly person's cells are senescent, but scientists are still unsure whether or not every one of them needs to be killed to ward off disease.