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Want to Live Longer? Annihilate the Zombies … Cells, That Is

Study Could be Key to Slowing Aging Process, Scientists Say

Halloween is over, but zombies are still threatening your health, scientists say. “Zombie” cells, that is.

However, purging the body of these senescent cells, which no longer function as they should, may stop the progression of aging, scientists at Mayo Clinic report in a new study.

“By attacking these cells and what they produce, one day we may be able to break the link between aging mechanisms and predisposition to disease like heart disease, stroke, cancers and dementia,” said the clinic’s Dr. James Kirkland, in a written statement. “There is potential for a fundamental change in the way we provide treatment for chronic diseases in older people.

Kirkland, a co-author of the study, and other Mayo Clinic researchers based their study off the past discovery that cells in the body don’t divide forever. Instead, they reach a state of limbo (cellular senescence), where they aren’t dividing, but are releasing substances that harm other cells. This can cause inflammation.

Purging these cells from the body, the scientists postulated, may slow aging and age-related problems, according to the study, which was originally reported in the science journal Nature.

Researchers genetically engineered mice to tag their senescent cells with a specific molecule. When the mice were given a drug that stimulated the molecule, it would create holes in the cells’ membranes and the zombie cells self-destructed.

Over the long term, mice that were given the drug were slower to develop cataracts, muscle loss and weakness. Removing the cells later in life may even stop the progression of age-related disorders the body already has, Time magazine reported.

The study “provides important insights on aging at the cellular level," Felipe Sierra, Ph.D., Director of the Division of Aging Biology, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, told CBS News.

The New York Times reported that if the results are confirmed by future studies, it may be possible to develop drugs to kill senescent cells in humans, or otherwise rid the body of the cells. Another alternative might be to destroy the harmful substances the senescent cells produce.

"Our discovery demonstrates that in our body cells are accumulating that cause these age-related disorders and discomforts," said study co-author Dr. Jan van Deursen, in a statement. “Therapeutic interventions to get rid of senescent cells or block their effects may represent an avenue to make us fell more vital, healthier and allow us to stay independent for a much longer time.”

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