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Here For A Good Time

November 18, 2011

Rheanna Sand

 

The 70's Canadian band Trooper had it right: we're here for a good time. Not a long time.

If the number of vampire stories in books, TV, and movies is any guide, the concept of eternal life is a popular one in human culture. Sure, skirting the finality of death is intuitively attractive. But what if old age didn't come with all of the diseases, deficits, and disorders associated with senescence? Would we still be obsessed with living forever?

A group of scientists from the Mayo Clinic are challenging us with that very idea. In their exciting letter to Nature, Jan van Deursen and colleagues reported that clearing a certain type of "aging" cells, called senescent cells, significantly reduced age-related dysfunctions in mice. Like the characters from the movie "In Time," they just… stopped aging. Without the embedded arm-life-clock.

Cellular aging and death is a healthy part of life; it helps prevent the uncontrolled growth of damaged cells into malignant, cancerous tumours. But senescent cells can accumulate in organs and tissues, and secrete factors that influence healthy cells to become dysfunctional, leading to decreased muscle tissue, liver function, and eyesight in old age.

These researchers decided to remove the aging cells, but how do you remove specific cells without dissecting the animal apart and putting it back together? With the miracle of transgenic mice and pro-drugs, of course! They designed the mice to have special proteins in their senescent cell membranes, and when they gave the mice a drug, it killed only those cells. This lead to increased muscle fiber diameter in the mice, improved the time they could exercise, the distance they could run, and the work they could do. They also had smaller and thinner fat cells, and were significantly less responsive to images of Charlie Rose.

 


Can you guess which mouse had the senescent cells destroyed? The graph on the right shows the size of muscle fibres, with the bars in light blue and orange getting the drug treatment.

 

Since transferring this treatment to humans would involve creating transgenic people, it's not likely to reach the market anytime in the next million years. It does, however, show the important role these cells play in making our golden years less... shiny. That opens new doors for anti-aging research which aims to make our lives better, not necessarily longer.

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