Researchers discover way to slow aging process

In a paper published last month, scientists demonstrated how to reduce damaged cells and extend lifespan in mice.

Nikki Pederson

New research overseen by University of Minnesota researchers has demonstrated the ability to slow aging and reduce the amount of damaged cells in the body, according to a paper published last month.

University aging experts, along with other researchers from The Scripps Research Institute and Mayo Clinic, discovered that a natural compound found in foods like apples, cucumbers and strawberries showed the ability to improve health and increase the lifespan of mice. The Mayo Clinic will soon begin human clinical trials.

As people age, they accumulate damaged cells that need to be cleared from the body, according to the paper. Young, healthy bodies have the ability to clear away those cells before they cause damage. However, as people grow older, their bodies aren’t as effective at clearing those damaged cells. This can trigger an inflammatory attack that causes tissue damage, which can contribute to a number of age-related diseases.

By giving mice doses of fisetin, a natural product in many fruits and vegetables, researchers found improved tissue function, a decrease in age-related diseases and lifespan extension, said Laura Niedernhofer, director of the University’s Institute on the Biology of Aging and Metabolism.

“I think it is hard to prove that you are slowing aging,” Niedernhofer said. “But we definitely slowed an aging process.”

Healthy and normal cells continuously grow, die and replicate. Cell senescence is a process in which cells lose function, including the ability to divide and replicate, but are still resistant to death, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Of the 10 compounds tested in the research, fisetin was found to be the most potent senolytic, meaning it could selectively kill those senescent cells or reverse the age-related diseases and decreased physical functions that they cause.

“Administration of fisetin to wild-type mice late in life restored tissue homeostasis, reduced age-related pathology and extended median and maximum lifespan,” according to the research published in EBioMedicine.

The next step is to try to find a better compound than fisetin, said Paul Robbins, co-director of iBAM. He and the other researchers are interested in studying fisetin and other senolytics to find the most potent compound or to even create a man-made product that performs better than natural ones.

Unique to the University was the researchers’ collaboration with the Department of Chemistry to use mass cytometry to view the changes in the senescent cells, which is a technique to measure the properties of single cells, used to view the changes in the senescent cells.

“We looked at the properties that changed when the cells were exposed to fisetin,” said Edgar Arriaga, a professor in the Department of Chemistry. This technology allowed the researchers to determine which cells were being affected by the treatment, he said.

Arriaga added that it’s rare for a university chemistry department to have mass cytometry technology as it is usually only found in cancer and immunology centers.

“We believe it is an advantage,” he said.