A team of researchers, mostly from the Mayo Clinic and Scripps Research Institute, recently reported an interesting study. They basically show that various cells that have stopped dividing (“senescent cells”) accumulate with age and that killing off those cells can extend the time that an animal remains healthy as it ages.
The researchers identified a combination of drugs that selectively killed these senescent cells. When administered to mice, the drugs had the effect of “alleviating symptoms of frailty and extending healthspan”. The drugs turned out to be an odd combination: dasatinib, a drug used to treat cancer, and quercetin, a natural flavonol that is sold as a nutritional supplement.
As with much of journalism’s coverage of scientific work, the news reports are a bit exaggerated (or copied uncritically and essentially word-for-word from a glowing press release, such as in this Science Daily article). The drugs used in the combination are probably far from being ideal drugs for this potential new use. Dasatinib has the kinds of serious side effects that are tolerable when treating a potentially fatal disease, but wouldn’t be for someone who is essentially healthy. Quercetin, like most flavonoids, is not that bioavailable with most of what is ingested getting quickly metabolized or excreted.
Whether this work will be “transformative”, as the authors claim, remains to be seen of course. Extending the healthy life of a mouse is not necessarily going to translate to doing the same thing in a human. Humans already have done a great deal to extend life expectancy and to maintain health into old age through various changes in society, lifestyle, and medicine. To a certain extent, the system has already been optimized, so any further optimization will be increasingly more difficult.
But this is fascinating work that is certainly worth following up on. No doubt these researchers already are, and probably others will join in looking to confirm and build upon these results.
The paper is published in the journal Aging Cell, which is open access, and can be obtained here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acel.12344/abstract.