Researchers from the Scripps Research Institute and the Mayo Clinic have developed a new class of drugs that were shown to significantly slow the aging process in animal models. Remarkably, dramatic improvements were noticeable just days after treatment.

The research was only carried out on mice, but the introduction of an entirely new class of drugs, called "senolytics," could have incredible potential for humans as well.

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"We view this study as a big, first step toward developing treatments that can be given safely to patients to extend healthspan or to treat age-related diseases and disorders," noted Scripps lead researcher Paul Robbins in a statement. "When senolytic agents, like the combination we identified, are used clinically, the results could be transformative."

Working with the prototype drugs, the researchers documented how they can be used to delay, prevent, alleviate, or even reverse a number of chronic age-related diseases and disabilities as a group, rather than concentrating on one at a time. In this sense, it's truly an "anti-aging" intervention.

The drugs work by selectively targeting and killing senescent cells — older cells that have stopped dividing but are steadily accumulating and contributing to the aging process.

To make it work, the researchers combined dasatinib (a cancer drug also known as Sprycel), and quercetin, a natural compound sold as a supplement that works as an antihistamine and anti-inflammatory. Together, these compounds induced the death of problematic cells. In cell samples, dasatinib was shown to eliminate senescent human fat cell progenitors, while quercetin proved its worth against senescent endothelial and mouse bone marrow stem cells. But it was as a cocktail that the new drugs were the most effective.

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The researchers found that, among older mice, cardiovascular function improved a mere five days after a single dose of the drugs. A single dose of the cocktail also improved the exercise capacity of mice weakened by radiation therapy used for cancer, and the effect lasted for at least seven months following treatment. Aged mice given periodic treatments also displayed improvements to various age-related symptoms, including spine degeneration, and osteoporosis.

Not surprisingly, both drugs have the potential to introduce side-effects, particularly with long-term treatment. Much more testing is needed before human trails can begin. That said, the researchers are optimistic that senolytic treatments to clear damaged cells will be infrequent, thus reducing the chances of side-effects.

You can check out the entire study at the journal Aging Cell.

Image: Fibroblast cells, fluorescence microscopy, nuclei, mitichondria, and microfilaments via Heiti Paves/Shutterstock