A senescent cell is one that has lost the ability to function and divide. Cell senescence is an essential process in the body: senescent cells play an important role in embryonic development, in tissue repair and in suppressing tumors (1).
However, the chronic accumulation of a large number of senescent cells in the body has a harmful effect on health: it can alter tissue homeostasis and so encourage the development of metabolic, inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases and even initiate tumor-forming processes (2).
Thus for some years now, scientists have been investigating how to eliminate these redundant cells, in the hope of countering the aging process and above all, age-related diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, joint problems, atherosclerosis, etc. (3)
Professor Tohru Minamino, from Japan’s University of Juntendo, and his colleagues hit the headlines in December 2021 following the publication of an article in the journal Nature Aging, detailing their trials of a vaccine that targets senescent cells(4).
To date, most of the agents used by doctors and scientists have been aimed at inhibiting the anti-apoptotic pathways of senescent cells. In other words, these agents are designed to promote the death of senescent cells (they are referred to as ‘senolytic agents ’).
This research team, however, adopted a new approach, employing technology that has till now been used to fight cancer: a peptide vaccine. Peptides are chains of amino acids, components of proteins, that play a highly immunogenic role.
The principle is to identify a peptide specific to a virus, a tumor, or in this case, senescent cells, upregulate it and inject it into the body, triggering the production of specific antibodies by the immune system.
For this study, Professor Minamino and his team identified a protein called GPNMB, as a marker of atherosclerosis. To test their hypothesis, they genetically ablated cells positive for this protein in mice fed a high-fat diet. They observed attenuated senescence in the mice’s adipose tissue as well as improved systemic metabolic abnormalities .
They then immunised another group of mice against GPNMB and observed a reduction in GPNMB-positive cells, an improvement in normal and pathological phenotypes associated with aging and an extension in lifespan in male mice with a progeroid syndrome (a genetic disorder that causes premature aging).
While these preliminary results obviously require further in-depth research, they are extremely promising and provide a glimpse of how it might be possible to live longer, healthier lives.
But while we wait for these advances in research and the discovery of an anti-aging vaccine suitable for use in humans, we need to take care of our health in order to minimise the development of senescent cells.
Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, reducing oxidative stress, lowering alcohol consumption, and above all, giving up smoking, are the best strategies we have right now for enjoying better health as we age.
Let’s remember too that certain molecules have already been the subject of scientific study for several years now for their senolytic potential. Of particular interest are fisetin and quercetin, both of which are available as dietary supplements. You can find pure fisetin supplements (such as Fisetin) as well as synergistic formulations combining not only fisetin and quercetin but also decaffeinated black tea, vitamin C and bromelain (such as the product Senolytic Complex) (5-7).
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