Immerse yourself into the exciting field and science of senolytics. Learn how a pill may be the source of the fountain of youth.
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In this article:
- What’s the Buzz About?
- What Are Senescent Cells?
- The Promise of the Science of Senolytics
- How Senolytics Improves the Economy
- The Challenges of the Field
Science of Senolytics: Is This the Key to Youthful Aging?
What’s the Buzz About?
On September 2, 2019, the Guardian published an article about the science of senolytics. It also talked about the so-called wonder drugs that may reverse the signs of aging.
It’s one of the exciting areas in healthcare, especially regenerative medicine. It is even driving interest from Silicon Valley giants such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
Senolytic drugs may help people deal with geriatric syndromes or age-related diseases:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Joint inflammation like osteoarthritis
- Hormone imbalances
- Chronic kidney disease
- Sexual dysfunction
What are geriatric syndromes? It is a cluster of health conditions associated with aging.
The study of senolytics focuses not only on lifespan but also on healthspan. It doesn’t aim to stop the aging process but also to slow it down.
This way, people can grow old while still feeling healthy and enjoying a high quality of life. They can live their old lives free of a lot of pain.
Since it’s new, though, understanding the science of senolytics may be challenging. To deal with it, you need to learn one more concept: senescent cells.
What Are Senescent Cells?
LIV Health has already discussed senescent cells. To recap, these are the cells that have ceased dividing.
Cell division is a critical biological process. It’s how cells regenerate or proliferate.
When they stop doing this, senescent cells undergo apoptosis or cellular death.
Senescent cells may help suppress tumors and may prevent cancer cells from proliferating or spreading to other organs.
There’s a problem with senescence, though. It can do more harm than good in the long run.
These can accumulate in the body, leading to chronic inflammation. It can contribute to the way people age since it damages healthy cells.
It may also destroy stem cells, which are human cells that can differentiate into various organs and tissues.
Senescent cells also have secretory abilities that may disrupt normal body function. This further accelerates the signs of aging.
One of the goals of the science of senolytics is to remove senescent cells from the body. Another is to delay senescence to prolong life.
The Promise of the Science of Senolytics
The Guardian article shows the potential of senolytics and senolytic compounds or drugs in improving healthspan.
Take, for example, this 2018 study in Nature Medicine. Mayo Clinic researchers including Dr. Ming Xu experimented on mice and senescent cells.
When they transplanted these cells to young mice, they developed “persistent physical dysfunction.” The cells also “spread” by affecting the nearby tissues.
They also saw the same effects among older mice even if they added fewer senescent cells. When they introduced senolytic drugs to both groups, they improved physical function by 36%.
They also decreased their mortality risks by as much as 65%. In the experiment, they used a senolytic cocktail comprised of:
- Quercetin, a polyphenol or antioxidant present in plants
- Dasatinib, a leukemia drug
Both can work together to eliminate specific senescent cells and the number of naturally occurring ones. The combination also reduced the secretory abilities of these cells that lead to chronic inflammation.
In the end, the researchers concluded they provided evidence of proof of concept in two ways:
- The effects of senescence can contribute to the aging process and age-related diseases.
- The science of senolytics may help fight these effects, thereby increasing both lifespan and healthspan.
Both also go hand in hand. Obese people are more likely to have insulin resistance.
What is insulin resistance? It refers to the cell’s inability to perceive insulin, a hormone that delivers glucose or blood sugar to cells.
When the cells are less sensitive to insulin, it forces the pancreas to produce more. Not only can it destroy the organ in the long term, but it also raises glucose.
How Senolytics Improves the Economy
The benefits of senolytics extend beyond the body. It also improves the health of the country’s economy.
In many countries, more people are living longer. In the United States, the average life expectancy is already 78.69 years.
Back in 1962, the lifespan of Americans was only 70.12 years old. In 2000, it was 76.64 years old.
As more people age longer, the risks of developing age-related diseases or geriatric syndromes also increase. That can then place a significant burden on the economy.
Healthcare costs in the country reached more than $3 trillion in 2017. That’s $11,000 of spending per person.
The science of senolytics holds the promise of not only a healthier body but also a person less dependent on healthcare.
The Challenges of the Field
Despite the potential of senolytics, it remains an emerging science. Only a few human studies are available.
One of these is a 2019 human trial focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). IPF is a progressive rare respiratory disease that results in the scarring of the lungs.
Being idiopathic means its actual cause is still unknown. Senescence, however, may play a significant role.
In the study, the researchers explored using senolytics as a treatment for IPF. Patients with the disease showed improvements in gait speed, as well as walking distance.
Most of the studies, though, involve animal models and human tissues on Petri dishes. The interest these days is to translate them into human clinical trials.
The problem is not all studies on animal models apply to human trials well. Doing a similar experiment may lead to adverse reactions or side effects.
Even the human trial on IPF showed mixed results. The researchers noted no change in frailty, for instance.
The market for senolytic drugs is no doubt huge. The FDA standards, though, can be a barrier.
By definition, drugs are types of treatment for a specific disease. Senescence is a naturally occurring process.
It may then take a while (or even years) before the so-called magic pill arrives. Senolytics also doesn’t guarantee you will no longer age. It only delays the aging progress.
The good news is the science of senolytics is getting a lot of attention and support. Initial results suggest it is promising in treating diseases of aging such as heart disease or osteoarthritis.
While we wait for it to grow, we can learn to prevent premature senescence. The secrets, interestingly, are old-fashioned: healthy diet, exercise, and healthy habits.
What do you think about the science of senolytics? Share your thoughts about it in the comments section below.
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