A drug to fight aging may finally be on the horizon after the first trials in humans showed “impressive” results.
For many years, scientists have known that an accumulation of senescent cells in the body is linked to aging symptoms such as frailty and arthritis, as well as diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Senescent cells – also known as zombie cells – are not completely dead, so are not cleared out by the body, but are too damaged to repair tissue or carry out normal functions. Unable to repair itself or clear out the waste, the body gradually deteriorates.
Previously animal studies have shown that removing these cells reverses the aging process, extends lifespan, and restores lost youth.
Now, for the first time, scientists in the U.S. have shown improvements in humans using a drug that sweeps away the defunct cells. Although the initial three-week trial on 14 pensioners was only designed to show the drug was safe, the participants were able to walk faster, get up from a chair more quickly and scored better in ability tests.
Dr. James Kirkland, the senior study author, of the Mayo Clinic, said: “This is like a glimmer that it might actually work. The results were impressive. All 14 got better in their functional ability.
“We know there are at least 20 serious conditions that senescent cells are implicated in. We’re starting with the most serious, but then we hope to move on to the rest. The same approach should work in multiple diseases.
“This is simply the start of human studies. We don’t know what lies ahead and full trials are now ongoing. So at the moment, it’s baby steps, but those baby steps are moving quickly.”
The new treatment involves a drug called dasatinib which is already licensed for killing cancer cells in leukaemia patients and quercetin, a common plant pigment.
At the moment, it’s baby steps, but those baby steps are moving quickly
The study showed that the drug combination began clearing out the cells within just 30 minutes and within 24 hours all senescent cells were gone.
“It has a hit-and-run effect,” added Dr Kirkland. “The drug starts working quickly and we would ideally like to be able to give it just once a month.”
All participants in the trial suffered from pulmonary fibrosis. Usually victims survive only six to eight years. The research was published in EBioMedicine, The Lancet online journal.