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Will discovery lead to longer lives?

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The Mayo Clinic published a study this week that identifies a way to help humans live significant longer, healthier lives.

The potentially groundbreaking research, conducted in Rochester and published Wednesday at Nature.com, found that mice lived up to 35 percent longer after being given a drug that eliminated senescent cells, which have been linked to age-related ailments like kidney failure and Type 2 diabetes, among others.

The successful "genetic tinkering" in mice extended their lives by between 17 and 35 percent and has Mayo Clinic researchers optimistic that the same process eventually could be applied to humans. It's the second major study Mayo has conducted on mice while targeting senescent cells, with the 2011 study producing identical results.

"We think these cells are bad when they accumulate. We remove them and see the consequences," said Mayo Clinic molecular biologist Darren Baker, the first author of the research study. "That's how I try to explain it to my kids.

"The advantage of targeting senescent cells is that clearance of just 60 to 70 percent can have significant therapeutic effects. If translatable, because senescent cells do not proliferate rapidly, a drug could efficiently and quickly eliminate enough of them to have profound impacts on healthspan and lifespan."

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The average life expectancy in the United States is 79 years; adding 35 percent would make an average life expectancy about 106 years.

The immune system typically removes senescent cells on a regular basis, but a body becomes less efficient in that process as one ages. The Mayo Clinic has found that old senescent cells damage adjacent cells and cause chronic inflammation, which is closely associated with frailty and age-related diseases.

The new process is believed to delay tumor formation, preserve tissue and organ function and extend lifespan without observed adverse effects, according to a Mayo press release.

"Senescent cells that accumulate with aging are largely bad, do bad things to your organs and tissues, and therefore, shorten your life but also the healthy phase of your life," says Jan van Deursen, chairman of Biochemistry and Molecular biology at Mayo Clinic, and senior author of the paper. "And since you can eliminate the cells without negative side effects, it seems like therapies that will mimic our findings – or our genetic model that we used to eliminate the cells – that drugs or other compounds that can eliminate senescent cells would be useful for therapies against age-related disabilities or diseases or conditions."

Baker and van Deursen own a licensed patent to produce senescent-eliminating drugs.

"I think that there is every chance this will be a viable therapeutic option," Dominic Withers, a clinician-scientist who studies aging at Imperial College London, told Nature.com.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Paul F. Glenn Foundation, the Ellison Medical Foundation, the Noaber Foundation and the Mayo Clinic Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging.

Others on the Mayo Clinic research team include: Bennett Childs, Matej Durik; Melinde Wijers, Jian Zhong, Rachel Saltness, Dr. Grace Verzosa, Abdulmohammad Pezeshki, Khashayarsha Khazaie and Jordan D. Miller.

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