*Discover cocktail of cancer medication, plant-based supplement could halt body’s decline
An anti-ageing drug may be on the horizon, research suggests. Scientists have discovered a drug cocktail that clears senescent – or ‘zombie’ – cells from the body.
Senescent cells are alive but non-functioning and have been linked to everything from arthritis to Alzheimer’s.
They are also thought to cause the deadly lung disease idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) by triggering inflammation.
Researchers gave patients the cancer drug Sprycel (dasatinib) and the plant supplement quercetin – found in red wine, onions and green tea – to test how zombie cells affect IPF.
Patients taking the cocktail – both of which are known to trigger suicide in senescent cells – became significantly more mobile after just three weeks.
The findings raise hope that senolytic drugs may lead to a new way of targeting age-related disease.
“We know there are at least 20 serious conditions that senescent cells are implicated in,” senior study author Dr. James Kirkland, from the Mayo Clinic, said.
“We’re starting with the most serious, but then we hope to move on to the rest. The same approach should work in multiple diseases.”
As well as the Mayo Clinic, the research was also carried out by Wake Forest Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
It was led by Dr. Jamie Justice, an assistant professor in gerontology and geriatric medicine, at Wake Forest.
Obstructive IPF is a chronic lung disease that is ‘generally relentlessly progressive and fatal’, the authors wrote in The Lancet online journal EBioMedicine. It has an average survival rate post-diagnosis of just 3.8 years.
IPF causes scarring of the lungs, which makes them less able to inflate and take in oxygen. This can leave sufferers breathless while doing simple activities, like walking.
Around 6,000 people are diagnosed with IPF in the United Kingdom (UK) every year, of which 85 per cent are over 70, British Lung Foundation statistics reveal.
Between 30,000 and 40,000 cases are diagnosed annually in the United States (US), according to the US National Library of Medicine.
The combination of dasatinib and quercetin has been shown to reduce the number of senescent cells in mice studies.
This has helped prevent a range of diseases in rodents, including osteoporosis and fatty liver.
In the first study of its kind, 14 elderly adults with controlled IPF were given dasatinib and quercetin over three consecutive days once a week for three weeks.
Meanwhile, removing ‘zombie cells’ may treat anxiety in obese patients, research suggested earlier this month.
Senescent cells have been shown to accumulate in the brains of people carrying dangerous amounts of weight.
To test a long-held theory they may affect mental health, researchers from the Mayo Clinic and Newcastle University gave obese mice a cocktail of dasatinib and quercetin.
After two months, the senescent cells in the rodents’ brains had cleared and been replaced with healthy tissue, with the animals also showing reduced signs of anxiety.
The researchers hope these medications may lead to a new way of treating obese anxiety sufferers. Blood samples were taken to measure senescence biomarkers.
IPF severity was also assessed via lung function tests and the results of a six-minute walking distance test, which investigates the area a patient can cover, and the number of rests they require, in that timeframe.
Results revealed taking dasatinib and quercetin significantly improved the participants’ performance on the walk test, with them being able to cover an extra 21metres in six minutes. They could also get up from a chair two seconds faster.
“This is a glimmer it might actually work,” Kirkland said. “The results were impressive. All 14 got better in their functional ability.”
But the drug combination had no impact on the participants’ lung function.
The researchers claim the study intended to show ‘feasibility rather than drug efficacy’, with its number of participants being too small to evaluate changes to the level of senescent cell biomarkers.
They add, however, certain biomarkers showed ‘potential for reduction’, with at least eight participants having decreased circulating levels. The levels even started to go down after just half-an-hour.
“It has a hit-and-run effect,” Kirkland said. “The drug starts working quickly and we would ideally like to be able to give it just once a month.”
The treatment was generally found to be safe with side effects typically being limited to just cough, shortness of breath and skin irritation.
However, one patient had to be hospitalised with suspected pneumonia and fluid on the lungs, while others experienced severe headache.
The researchers, therefore, stress further studies are required before senolytic drugs should be used for IPF.
“This is simply the start of human studies,” Kirkland said. “We don’t know what lies ahead and full trials are now ongoing. So at the moment, it’s baby steps, but those baby steps are moving quickly.”
Already approved senolytic medications include the plant supplement fisetin and the lymphoma drug navitoclax.