Science 3 min read

Scientists Discover New Cause for Senescence or Cell Aging

A new study conducted by researchers from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering revealed why cell aging or senescence occurs. The discovery could open the door for effective anti-aging drugs to be developed.

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

In a recent publication in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, a team of researches explored the reason for senescence – a natural process in which cells stop creating new cells.

Unlike stem cells, which have an unlimited potential for division or self-renewal, senescent cells can’t divide again. The researchers from USC Viterbi School of Engineering described this condition as a constant state of cell cycle arrest.

After studying these cells, the team noted something peculiar. They noted that senescent cells no longer produce a chemical class, which is the building block of DNA, the nucleotides.

The discovery led to an experiment in an attempt to understand its cause.

The researchers forced young cells to stop producing this class of chemicals and watched them age or become senescent. With the experiment, the team proved that the production of nucleotides is essential to keep cells young.

In other words, we could slow down aging by simply preventing cells from losing nucleotide synthesis. To pull this off, the researchers needed to understand how senescence works.

Senescence in Epithelial Cells

For the study, the team fed young cells with stable isotopes of carbon. That way, they could trace how the nutrients consumed by a cell gets processed into different biochemical pathways.

The 3D imagery of the result revealed something unexpected about senescence cells. Alongside having two nuclei, these cells do not synthesize DNA.

Past studies have mainly studied senescence in fibroblasts – the most common cells in the connective tissues of animals.

The new research, on the other hand, is exploring how senescence occurs in epithelial cells. Aside from lining the body organs and structure, most cancers arise from these type of cells.

According to researcher Nick Graham, senescence is generally considered the body’s protective barrier against cancer. Damaged cells that are at risk of developing into cancer enter senescence and stop proliferating. As a result, the disease does not grow and spread.

In a statement, Graham, who is also the Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, said:

“Sometimes people talk about senescence as a double-edged sword, that it protects against cancer, and that’s a good thing. But then it also promotes aging and diseases like diabetes, cardiac dysfunction or atherosclerosis, and general tissue dysfunction.”

Developing Senolytic Drugs to Treat Senescence

While ultimately preventing senescence could unleash cancer cells, the researchers believe there’s a balance. They could create senolytic drugs to eliminate aging cells.

“They can take a mouse that’s aging and diminishing in function, treat it with senolytic drugs to eliminate the senescent cells, and the mouse is rejuvenated. If anything, it’s these senolytic drugs that are the fountain of youth,” Graham said.

The researchers admitted that further research is required to understand why senescent cells are unique. That way, they could design drugs that’ll target the aging cells rather than normal, non-senescent ones.

Read More: Live Forever Young: Researchers Rejuvenate Old Human Senescent Cells

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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