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Fighting Aging by Eliminating Senescent Cells

7 January 2019
Giulio Prisco

Aging and Young Hands

In Pulse 92, published before the Christmas holidays, we covered speculations on anti-aging and regenerative therapies and vaccines. In October, the prestigious MIT Technology Review covered the research of anti-aging pioneer Judith Campisi, focused on senescent cells (see below).

Campisi suggests that health care could be transformed by senolytic drugs, which eliminate senescent cells. The recognition that senescent cells can be such drivers of aging “has finally gained acceptance,” says Campisi. “Whether those drugs will work in people is still an open question. But the first human trials are under way right now.”

“The correct way to think about senescence is that it’s an evolutionary balancing act,” explains Campisi. “It was selected for the good purpose of preventing cancer—if [cells] don’t divide, [they] can’t form a tumor. It also optimizes tissue repair. But the downside is if these cells persist, which happens during aging, they can now become deleterious. Evolution doesn’t care what happens to you after you’ve had your babies, so after around age 50, there are no mechanisms that can effectively eliminate these cells in old age. They tend to accumulate. So the idea became popular to think about eliminating them, and seeing if we can restore tissues to a more youthful state.”

Drug clears away senescent cells, restores youthful characteristics. New research at Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that we could keep our bodies young, healthy, and energetic as we age. A study published in Nature Communications confirms the role of senescent cells (not completely dead but suffering loss of function or irreparable damage) in aging-related diseases. The researchers gave laboratory mice a drug that inhibits the function of certain proteins that help the aging cells survive in their senescent state. The treated mice responded exceptionally well to the drug: their blood tests and activity tests showed improvement, and their tissues appeared to be much closer to those of young mice.

Nanowrappers carry and release nanoscale cargo for biomedical applications. Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory, using a one-step chemical synthesis method, have engineered hollow metallic nanosized boxes with cube-shaped pores at the corners and demonstrated how these "nanowrappers" can be used to carry and release DNA-coated nanoparticles in a controlled way. According to the scientists, the research results, published in ACS Central Science, a journal of the American Chemical Society (ACS), could prepare the way for new drug delivery systems able to release optically or chemically active nanoparticles in particular environments.

Advances toward wireless optogenetics. Scientists at University of Arizona have demonstrated a new optogenetics method, described in a study published in Nature Electronics, which eliminates the need for bulky optical fibers, gives researchers more precise control of the light's intensity, and allows for stimulating multiple areas of the brain simultaneously. Optogenetics is a biological technique that uses light to turn on or off specific neuron groups in the brain, which have been previously loaded with proteins called opsins. The first iterations of optogenetics involved sending light to the brain through optical fibers, but the new research is a step toward wireless optogenetics.

AI system predicts symptoms of cancer patients. Researchers at University of Surrey and UC San Francisco have developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that is able to predict symptoms and their severity throughout the course of a cancer patient's treatment. A study published in PLOS One details how scientists created two machine learning models that are able to accurately predict the severity of three common symptoms faced by cancer patients: depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance.

A minimally-invasive nanomesh heart contact sensor. Engineers at University of Tokyo, Tokyo Women’s Medical University, and RIKEN, have created a delicate sensor to monitor heart cells with minimal disruption. A research paper published in Nature Nanotechnology describes a soft nanomesh sensor that can be placed in direct contact with the tissue of the heart. According to the scientists, this device could aid study of other cells, organs, and medicines, and prepare the way for future embedded medical devices.

Flexible brain electrodes for large scale data collection from the brain. Scientists at UC San Francisco have developed an innovative tool to peer into the secret life of brain cells. The new recording device, described in a research paper published in Neuron, has the potential to measure the electrical activity of over 1000 individual neurons in real time from 16 different locations in the rat brain, and it can remain in place for many months, producing the most comprehensive and longest-lasting recordings ever. The researchers hope to use the device to learn more about how memories form, and how past experiences influence decisions.

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