A team of researchers from Tokyo's Juntendo University has tested a vaccine in mice that appears to inhibit the growth of so-called zombie cells, scientifically known as senescent cells, which are commonly associated with aging and a variety of diseases as they accumulate with age and damage nearby cells, the Japan Times reported.
These senescent cells are pesky little things as they stop dividing but refuse to die. Instead, they harm neighboring healthy cells by producing chemicals that induce inflammation.
A small number of senescent cells, like the one rotten apple that contaminates the entire fruit bowl, can spread inflammation, and as a person ages, the number of senescent cells increases as well since the immune system becomes less efficient. This can impair a person’s ability to cope with stress or illness, recover from injuries, and learn new things, which is why cellular senescence has been linked to a wide range of age-related conditions, including cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and osteoarthritis.
According to the study published in the journal Nature Aging, the team took a stab at solving this problem by finding a protein prevalent in senescent cells in people and mice and developing a peptide vaccination based on an amino acid that makes up the protein. The vaccination stimulates the body to produce antibodies that bind to senescent cells, which are then eliminated by white blood cells that attach to the antibodies.
When the researchers gave the vaccination to mice with arterial stiffening, they saw that many accumulated senescent cells were eliminated, and areas affected by the disease shrank. Then, the vaccine was given to aged mice, and it was seen that their frailty progression was slower than that of unvaccinated mice.
Also, many of the currently available medications for removing senescent cells are anti-cancer therapies and may have undesirable side effects. On the other hand, the new vaccine had fewer side effects and its efficacy was longer. It's because of these reasons that, "We can expect that (the vaccine) will be applied to the treatment of arterial stiffening, diabetes and other aging-related diseases," Juntendo University professor Toru Minamino told the Japan Times.
For the time being, it's too early to call this development a vaccine against old age and think it could grant those vaccinated eternal youth. Nonetheless, it could eventually prove effective for the prevention of some age-related diseases, and aid in our never-ending quest to reverse aging.