Aging brings with it an inevitable decline in health and an increased level of frailty. While the health issues related to aging vary in degree from person to person, virtually everybody suffers at least a minor decline in their overall health condition as old age sets in. Now researchers have uncovered a combination of drugs that--at least in mice--yield improvements in the health and function of those who take them.

How cells age

As you go through your daily life your cells are constantly dividing. This is how tissue is repaired when you have suffered an injury and how older cells are replaced with new, undamaged ones. However, each time a cell replicates itself through division, small structures called telomeres are slightly shortened. Telomeres are often likened to the hardened plastic ends of a shoelace: they act to protect the "lace" (in this case, the cell's DNA) from unraveling and becoming otherwise damaged when the cell goes about its daily activities. Eventually, after many replications, the telomeres are too short to protect the DNA of the cell, and the cell becomes a liability to your body.

Researchers have uncovered a combination of drugs that--at least in mice--yield improvements in the health and function of those who take them.

Cells respond to this situation in one of three ways: a cell may destroy itself through apoptosis; it may become a dysfunctional cell (these are the types of cells that sometimes become cancerous); or it may stop replicating itself but otherwise continue its normal existence. The cells in the last class are called senescent cells and these cells--although often able to continue functioning--sometimes release damaging molecules into your body. These molecules increase your chances of developing various diseases.

How the drugs work

The drugs which were the subject of the study--dasatinib and quercetin--are used individually to fight cancer. Individually they do have some effectiveness; however, researchers discovered that when they are combined they have a synergistic effect on senescent (dysfunctional) cells.

After giving aged mice a dose of the two-drug combination, researchers recorded a marked improvement in the heart function of the mice. What's more, the drugs assisted in reversing radiation damage to limbs and augmented the exercise capacity of the treated mice.

The above results were short-term effects and, while exciting, are not the only effects: in the long-term the drugs slowed down the onset and development of a wide array of age-related ailments including osteoporosis and the overall frailty of the mice.

Will people be the next to benefit from these "anti-aging" drugs? Only time and further scientific research will tell.

Conclusion

As we age our cells begin to lose the ability to replicate themselves. While some of the cells so affected simply self-destruct, others hang around the body and can begin to cause problems. The drugs discovered work by targeting a certain class of the cells that remain in the body. The short-term effects are noticeable increases in the wellness levels of mice, while the long-term effects include a later onset of other age-related conditions as well as a slowing of the progression of such conditions. Thus, these drugs are not being considered as a potential cure for old age; at best, they are a way to prolong the inevitable. Still, this is an exciting discovery that can lead to an improved quality of life for many people and possibly enhanced longevity.

People are already using these drugs in various forms. One is used to treat cancer, while another is a common anti-oxidant supplement. Nevertheless, the combination of the drugs is not something which has yet been studied in people.

Will people be the next to benefit from these "anti-aging" drugs? Only time and further scientific research will tell.

In fact, while the discovery of the effects of these drugs on age-related ailments is exciting, it should be noted that more research is needed before we will know for sure whether these drugs will have similar effects on humans as they do on mice--and whether it is safe for humans to pursue these drugs as a possible treatment for some of the effects of old age. Before researchers can even begin to consider the possibilities in humans, further animal testing needs to be conducted and analyzed.

Source

National Institute on Aging. NIH-funded researchers identify drugs to eliminate senescent cells in mice, improving health and function. March 9, 2015. Available at https://www.nia.nih.gov/research/announcements/2015/03/nih-funded-researchers-identify-drugs-eliminate-senescent-cells-mice. Last visited November 13, 2015.

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