New drug that eliminates old ‘zombie’ cells may lead to anti-ageing breakthrough

‘Drug we identified is a powerful destroyer of old cells’

Vishwam Sankaran
Monday 17 July 2023 06:09 BST
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Scientists have discovered a new molecule that selectively eliminates old non-functional “zombiecells in the body without affecting healthy ones – an advance that may lead to novel anti-ageing therapies.

Over time, some of the body’s cells may stop working properly, becoming non-functional “zombie” cells, and as these begin to accumulate, they may lead to the ageing of tissues.

A new study, published recently in the journal Aging, has identified a new molecule that eliminates these old senescent – or deteriorating – cells in a lab-grown culture of tissues without impacting healthy ones.

The molecule, named CUDC-907, can also “effectively eliminate” old cells remaining in the body following cancer therapies, said researchers, including those from the University of Leicester in the UK.

Cells in the body undergo various types of stresses over the course of a person’s lifetime, such as solar radiation, that could lead to them accumulating mutations.

At certain points, to prevent these cells with mutations from developing into cancerous ones, the body activates defence mechanisms which either induce the kill itself in a process known as apoptosis, or these cells are triggered to become senescent.

This is a kind of “zombie” state between life and death, in which a cell no longer functions despite still being alive, and it also begins to manufacture products that replicate the zombie state in the other healthy cells around it.

In young people, the body acts on these cells and cleans up the tissues. But as people get older, the immune system stops performing this crucial maintenance, leading to zombie cells accumulating in tissues and causing ageing.

Some drugs called senolytics have been shown to eliminate these old cells, and potentially improving life expectancy and quality of life of animals.

The new study has found that CUDC-907 can destroy old cells “efficiently and specifically” with few side effects on healthy cells.

“The drug we identified is a powerful destroyer of old cells and its effect against some cancers is also now being investigated, so it could have a double effect: anti-cancer and at the same time, it could act against old cells that make the cancer reappear,” study co-author Salvador Macip said.

Researchers now hope to begin tests on animal models and, if they obtain good results, plan to conduct clinical trials in humans.

They suspect the molecule may also be applied to prevent accumulation of senescent cells in other conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

“Perhaps an intensive dose of the drug would clean the brain and prevent the disease from progressing. It could also be useful in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, to slow its progress, rather than the aging itself,” Dr Macip said.

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