Have scientists finally figured out why we age?
New research from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering could be key to our understanding of how the aging process works. The findings potentially pave the way for better cancer treatments and revolutionary new drugs that could vastly improve human health in the twilight years.
The work, from Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Nick Graham and his team in collaboration with Scott Fraser, Provost Professor of Biological Sciences and Biomedical Engineering, and Pin Wang, Zohrab A. Kaprielian Fellow in Engineering, was recently published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
“To drink from the fountain of youth, you have to figure out where the fountain of youth is and understand what the fountain of youth is doing,” Graham said. “We’re doing the opposite; we’re trying to study the reasons cells age so that we might be able to design treatments for better aging.”
The researchers, in this case, focused their efforts on the biological process of senescence, a natural process in which cells permanently stop creating new cells. This process is one of the key causes of age-related decline, manifesting in diseases such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and heart disease.
“Senescent cells are effectively the opposite of stem cells, which have an unlimited potential for self-renewal or division,” Graham. “Senescent cells can never divide again. It’s an irreversible state of cell cycle arrest.”
Graham said that the team’s research has applications in the emerging field of senolytics, the development of drugs that may be able to eliminate aging cells. He said that human clinical trials are still in the early stages, but studies with mice have shown that by eliminating senescent cells, mice age better, with a more productive life span.
“They can take a mouse that’s aging and diminishing in function, treat it with senolytic drugs to eliminate the senescent cells, and the mouse is rejuvenated. If anything, it’s these senolytic drugs that are the fountain of youth,” Graham said.
Can We Actually Extend the Human Lifespan?
Besides research like that being done by Graham and his colleagues that could improve how we age, there is other ongoing research that is looking to put a stop to the process entirely!
Harold Katcher, the genetic scientist who helped to discover the breast cancer gene brca1, just co-authored a study that found his unique formulation made from “young blood plasma” known as “Elixir,” “significantly” increased the lifespan of rats.
Speaking to the press about the results of the study, Katcher said that, following treatment with Elixir, the “two-year-old rats showed the characteristics of rats half their age, by all the age-related traits we could measure….”