A vaccine used on mice removed zombie cells, medically known as senescent cells, that accumulate with age and damage nearby healthy cells, the Japan Times is reporting.. Doctors implicate these cells in a range of aging-related diseases, including arterial stiffening.
The team, including Juntendo University professor Toru Minamino, confirmed that mice administered with the vaccine showed decreases in the senescent cells, and in areas affected by arterial stiffening. They published their results in the online version of the journal Nature Aging.
“We can expect that (the vaccine) will be applied to the treatment of arterial stiffening, diabetes and other aging-related diseases,” Minamino told the newspaper.
Senescent cells are cells that stopped dividing but do not die. This can release chemicals that cause inflammation, which can then damage nearby healthy cells.
“Okay, this is a big deal: Vaccinations against aging work. Sure, it’s a proof-of-principle study in a rapidly aging mouse, but there’s little doubt this will be possible in us one day.”
The team first found a protein in senescent cells in humans and mice, then created a peptide vaccine based on an amino acid that makes up the protein. The vaccine helps the body create its own antibodies that can attach themselves to senescent cells. White blood cells that adhere to the antibodies can then remove the cells.
The vaccine was administered to mice with arterial stiffening. When the team examined the vaccinated mice, many accumulated senescent cells were removed and areas affected by the disease shrank. The frailty progression was slower also in vaccinated mice.
In a Tweet, aging researcher admits the limitations of the study, but contends it’s a significant step. “Okay, this is a big deal: Vaccinations against aging work. Sure, it’s a proof-of-principle study in a rapidly aging mouse, but there’s little doubt this will be possible in us one day.”
According to the Japan Times, existing drugs to remove senescent cells are often used as anti-cancer agents and could have negative side effects. The team did not see extreme side effects from the new vaccine, but said efficacy lasted longer.