‘Smart bomb’ cell treatment may delay the effects of aging

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LEICESTER, United Kingdom — An international team has developed a way to clear out the aging and dying cells in the body. The cell treatment could open the door to both anti-aging therapies as well as new treatments for age-related diseases.

Scientists at the University of Leicester teamed with other researchers around the globe to create antibodies which target senescent cells. Cellular senescence is an irreversible process which occurs when cells inside human tissue are no longer able to divide.

Study authors suspect that this process not only contributes to aging, but also to the development of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and even certain cancers. In lab experiments, researchers have been able to clear out these senescent cells. The results have slowed age-related degeneration in these tissue samples and prolonged their lifespans. Until now, the challenge has been figuring out how to accomplish this same feat in people.

‘Smart bombs’ may slow the aging process

In the new study, the team created antibodies which act like “smart bombs,” that can recognize and kill cells that no longer divide. Researchers loaded these antibodies with a drug specifically designed to look for a marker in senescent cells. Once the antibodies find such a cell, they’re able to clear them from the body — preventing them from building up and causing disease.

“Senolytics are a new class of drugs with great potential to ameliorate aging,” says Dr. Salvador Macip, a Leicester associate professor and head of the Mechanisms of Cancer and Aging Laboratory, in a university release.

“However, the ones we have found so far are quite unspecific and thus may have strong side effects. That is why there is much interest in a second generation of drugs, the targeted senolytics, which should eliminate senescent cells without affecting the rest,” Dr. Macip adds. “Copying an idea already in use in cancer therapies, we tweaked an antibody so it could recognize these cells and deliver a toxic cargo specifically into them.”

Scientists are now using the results of this proof-of-concept study to help further the development of more treatments for age-related degeneration.

The findings appear in the journal Scientific Reports.