Secret to eternal life? Groundbreaking ‘zombie cell’ vaccine reverses ageing in study

Dr Zoe explains how gut microbes can slow down brain ageing

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Despite their worrying name, zombie cells are not dead but have long been associated with causing damage to nearby cells, particularly as a result of ageing. Also known as senescent cells, they do not work as intended and prevent other cells from carrying out their functions. They are frequently found building up in the heart after a heart attack (myocardial infarction), leading to increased inflammation and scar tissue.

The cells have also been associated with age-related diseases such as arterial stiffening which, in turn, has been associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease.

But hope may be on the horizon – a team of researchers in Japan has claimed to have developed a vaccine capable of successfully removing senescent cells.

The vaccine has so far only been tested on mice but the researchers have said their findings are promising.

Professor Toru Minamino from Juntendo University in Tokyo told The Japan Times: “We can expect that [the vaccine] will be applied to the treatment of arterial stiffening, diabetes and other ageing-related diseases.”

The team’s findings were published this month in the journal Nature Aging.

Senolytic vaccination improves normal and pathological age-related phenotypes and increases lifespan in progeroid mice

The study has been described as a proof-of-principle experiment with potential implications for humans.

Harvard Professor and longevity expert David Sinclair, who read the study, tweeted: “Okay this is a big deal: Vaccinations against ageing work.

“Sure, it’s a proof-of-principle study in a rapidly ageing mouse, but there’s little doubt this will be possible in us one day.”

The Japanese researchers discovered a protein in the senescent cells called glycoprotein nonmetastatic melanoma protein B (GPNMB), that appears in both mice and humans.

By targetting an amino acid within GPNMB, the team synthesised a peptide vaccine that enables the body to create the required antibodies.

These antibodies then attach to the senescent cells and once they latch on, white blood cells (leukocytes) swoop in to remove the zombie cells.

The initial results indicate the vaccine reduced the levels of GPNMB and arterial plaques in mice that had been given the jab, compared to mice that were given a placebo.

The researchers were also keen to see whether the vaccine could reverse some of the signs associated with ageing, so they gave the vaccine to a group of one-year-old mice – middle-aged in mice years.

They then tested their agility about half a year later.

The mice that were given placebo shots were found to move less often and more slowly in their “old age”, compared to the mice that were given the genuine vaccine.

Incredibly enough, mice that were given the real deal were also found to have lived slightly longer than the control group.

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