Would you take a vaccine that could prevent aging?
Many people have made it quite clear about how they feel about taking the COVID vaccine, but how would folks against vaccines feel about one that could slow or even eliminate growing older?
That question may arrive sooner than you think. Researchers in Japan have successfully tested an “antiaging vaccine.”
In a recent study, Japanese researchers identified a protein specific to aging and diseased cells and developed a vaccine that was shown to delay aging and reduce the effects of aging on mice.
Cells have a limited lifespan, which is exactly why we all do. Cells cannot keep dividing forever – eventually, they accumulate too much DNA damage through environmental stress, so the body shuts them down and flags them to be cleared out by the immune system.
These cells are known as senescent cells. Shutting down and eliminating senescent cells seems to have developed as an evolutionary defense mechanism against these damaged cells turning cancerous and causing further damage to the body.
But, since even immune cells are not “immune” to the process, they age as well and become less efficient at clearing senescent cells from the body. These “zombie” cells that exist in a state somewhere between life and death start to accumulate, and one theory of aging suggests that it is the accumulation of these cells that lead to the symptoms of old age and cancer and the other diseases and impairments that come with it.
By examining gene expression in senescent cells, the team first identified a protein called GPNMB, which is expressed in high levels by these defunct cells. This protein was also detected in high levels in patients with atherosclerosis, which is linked to senescence.
Next, the researchers tested what happened when GPNMB is removed. The team fed mice a high-fat diet to speed up senescence, then genetically eliminated cells that expressed GPNMB. Treated mice had fewer metabolic abnormalities and other molecular markers of aging, as well as less severe symptoms of atherosclerosis than control mice.
The team developed a peptide-based vaccine that could target the protein and induce the immune system to destroy cells that expressed it.
The mice that were thus vaccinated all showed fewer signs of aging and generally remained healthier longer than the unvaccinated mice.
“Our study has demonstrated the possibility of a new anti-senescence strategy,” said Professor Tohru Minamino, corresponding author of the study. “We speculate that there are many more seno-antigens that are produced by other kinds of senescent cells. With more research, we will be able to provide individualized anti-senescence therapy for patients depending on the prevalence of different types of senescent cells in their body.”
The research was published in the journal Nature Aging.