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Living a healthier and even longer life can be done through the removal of certain cells. A study done on mice, where senescent cells were removed, showed that these mice lived longer and were much healthier than their younger counterparts when they died.
During our life cycle, the cells in our bodies divide and grow as new cells are needed during our developmental phases. Throughout the aging process, these cells accumulate damage in their DNA which can result in the formation of tumours. Three scenarios can occur with these damaged cells; they can repair themselves, they can self-destruct or they can stop dividing and growing and then enter a phase called senescence. These senescent cells then accumulate and they have been linked with health related issues that accompany the ageing process.

Researchers at the Biochemistry and Molecular biology department at the Mayo Clinic published an article on a study they did on mice. The study was based on research they were doing on a certain gene which they thought was linked with the incidence of cancer. This gene, BubR1, was inactivated but the result was that the ageing process had sped up in the mice. The result was that the affected rodent had developed cataracts, its body hair had grayed and become sparse and it lost body fat compared to the control mouse of the same age.

What they then discovered was that they could remove the mentioned senescent cells from genetically engineered fast-ageing mice. The results were that not only did the mice have a prolonged life span but they were much healthier, by the time they had died, than mice that were younger than them. This made them ask the question of what would happen if normal mice were administered the drug to remove senescent cells. They found that these normal mice had their lifespans lengthened by 25% and they had less fat loss, less heart and kidney related issues and they were more active. 

What is the clinical significance of senescent cells?

Senescent cells produce molecules which trigger the inflammatory process as well as enzymes which destroy connective tissue. This is a process which can lead to chronic health issues found in old age, but it also stimulates the immune system to destroy these cells and therefore help to reduce the incidence of cancers. As the immune system starts to decrease with age though, the senescent cells will then accumulate and the molecules that are produced become more of a problem than a cancer fighting solution. 

The mentioned process also aids in speeding up the healing of wounds. It was found in the experimented mice that wound healing was indeed slower when the senescent cells were removed. The understandable worry then is that removing senescent cells from humans could actually cause serious adverse effects, even though there are some clear-cut benefits.

The major issue would be whether one is increasing the incidence of cancer by removing senescent cells in people with properly functioning immune systems. The researchers in the rodent study saw no signs of an increase in the risk of cancer, but one has to mention that humans live much longer than rodents do.

The researchers are currently looking at trying to see if they can improve the clinical outcome of patients with osteoarthritis by applying the findings they made in their research study.

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