A drug to fight ageing may finally be on the horizon after the first trials in humans showed “impressive” results.
For many years, scientists have known an accumulation of senescent cells in the body is linked to ageing symptoms such as frailty and arthritis, as well as diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Senescent cells – also known as zombie cells – are not completely dead, so are not cleared out by the body, but are too damaged to repair tissue or carry out normal functions.
Unable to repair itself or clear out the waste, the body gradually deteriorates.
Previously, animal studies have shown that removing these cells reverses the ageing process and extends lifespan. Now, for the first time, scientists in the US have shown improvements using a drug that sweeps away the defunct cells.
Although the initial three-week trial on 14 pensioners was only designed to show the drug was safe, the participants were able to walk faster, get up from a chair more quickly and scored better in ability tests.
Dr James Kirkland, senior study author, of the Mayo Clinic, said: “This is like a glimmer that it might actually work. The results were impressive. All 14 got better in their functional ability.
“We know there are at least 20 serious conditions that senescent cells are implicated in. We’re starting with the most serious, but then we hope to move on to the rest.”
The new treatment involves a drug called dasatinib which is already licenced for killing cancer cells in leukaemia patients and quercetin, a common plant pigment.
The study showed the drug combination began clearing out the cells within 30 minutes and within 24 hours all senescent cells were gone. “It has a hit-and-run effect,” added Dr Kirkland.
All participants in the trial suffered from pulmonary fibrosis. Usually victims survive only six to eight years
The research was published in EBioMedicine, The Lancet online journal.