WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
- Anti-aging research has been going through a renaissance over the past few years, and now scientists plan on starting the first human trials
Over the past few years there has been more investment, and more interest in anti-ageing technologies, and while some scientists have decided to classify it as a disease there have been some notable, albeit nascent breakthroughs such as late last year when researchers reversed ageing in mice, discovered the genes responsible for ageing, and put embryos into suspended animation.
As you can see, at the moment there’s no single silver bullet, but that’s often how early stage research plays out. One of the constant areas of focus though throughout all of the research has been in the field of senescent cells, or to put it another way, the cells that play a pathological role in age related diseases.
Now a team of scientists at Erasmus University Medical Center (EUMC) in the Netherlands has discovered a peptide that targets these cells to reverse the symptoms of aging in mice. The treatment restored missing fur, improved kidney function and fitness in mice genetically engineered to rapidly age.
In the past scientists have been trying to develop new treatments that can kill senescent cells without damaging healthy cells, and in 2015, a team at The Scripps Research Institute discovered two compounds selectively targeted specific groups of senescent cells. And in 2016, researchers at the Mayo Clinic trialled a compound that eliminated senescent cells in mice, resulting in an extension of their average lifespans of between 17 and 35 percent.
The peptide that EUMC have identified causes senescent cells to go through a process known as Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, and the therapy works by blocking the communication of a protein called FOXO4 with another protein, p53. It’s believed that the interaction of these two proteins is what causes senescence in cells and when that communication is blocked the senescent cells self destruct.
What makes this an important discovery is the fact that the peptide only causes cell death in senescent cells, and not healthy cells, and that’s a major breakthrough.
“FOXO4 is barely expressed in non-senescent cells, so that makes the peptide interesting as the FOXO4-p53 interaction is especially relevant to senescent cells, but not normal cells,” says Peter de Keizer, one of the senior researchers involved in the project.
The research, which has been published in Cell, involved administering the peptide to genetically engineered fast-aging mice three times a week for over 10 months. Over the course of the treatment, the researchers identified different effects manifesting in the mice. Within 10 days of starting the treatment patches of missing fur reappeared on their coats, and after three weeks the mice receiving the treatment had the ability to run twice as far as mice that hadn’t received the treatment.
Biomarkers indicating healthy kidney function were also seen after one month of treatment, signalling an improvement in their renal function, and, with almost a year of regular infusions under their belts, the team failed to identify any obvious negative side effects of the treatment.
Now that the treatment appears to work, without side effects the team are now gearing up to start human trials but a lot of questions still remain, and the team don’t know if they will see the same results in people. That said though, so far, the research has shown great promise so who knows, one day soon, when you celebrate your next birthday, you might also be celebrating getting younger – and wouldn’t that be something to get your head around.