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Clearing Out 'Old Cells' Might Make for Healthier Old Age
Date:11/2/2011

By Mary Brophy Marcus
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Sweeping away the body's old cells may help delay age-related health woes and give more pep to old age, a new study in mice suggests.

In a study published online Nov. 2 in Nature, Mayo Clinic scientists came up with a way to eliminate so-called "senescent" cells -- aging cells that stop functioning properly but still stick around the body, damaging healthy tissues, explained study author Dr. Jan van Deursen, a professor of pediatrics, molecular biology and biochemistry at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

"This research has identified a cell class that makes you old and makes you have age-related declines. We can now start to think about how you can get rid of them," he said.

According to van Deursen, "how organisms and people age is not really well understood, particularly not at a cell and molecular level. There are many theories about how we age and one of the theories that we investigated was that as we age, senescent cells start to accumulate and produce and secrete proteins and other factors that basically make the healthy neighboring cells that surround them less functional."

After "deleting" senescent cells in mice genetically engineered to age quickly, tissues remained healthier and performed better, van Deursen's team found.

Senescent cells are limited in number, making only up to 15 percent of cells in an elderly person, for example. To eliminate them in the mice, the researchers focused a tracer on a protein called p16, explained co-author Dr. James Kirkland, director of the Mayo Clinic's Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging.

P16 stops cells from dividing and can trigger a series of steps that causes cellular senescence, Kirkland said.

"In healthy young cells the p16 gene is not expressed," van Deursen added. "Later on, as we age, it becomes higher in our tissues
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