Delaying or even stopping the aging process has been the subject of intense research interest for decades. Recently, a Japanese research group claimed to have developed a vaccine to destroy so-called “zombie cells” that accumulate with age and damage neighboring cells. They cause age-related diseases, including arterial stiffness and osteoporosis.
The aim of the new study is to use an experimental vaccine as a treatment for arterial stiffness, diabetes and other age-related diseases. The results of the study were published in the journal Nature Aging. Professor Toru Minamino from Juntendo University and his team noticed that mice who received the vaccine had a decrease in the number of zombie cells, or aging cells, and areas affected by arterial stiffness.
We remind you that the cells of the body can divide a certain number of times, after which this ability disappears. They can then “age” before being eliminated. Throughout our lives, they not only do not cause harm, but also perform a protective role by sending molecular signals to other cells.
Thus, in a young person, the balance between the formation and purification of aging cells is optimal. But with age, the formation of these cells increases, and their purification becomes less effective. As a result, they damage neighboring healthy cells by releasing chemicals that cause inflammation. Over time, they contribute to the aging process and pave the way to various pathologies: diabetes, osteoporosis, blockage of arteries, age-related loss of muscle mass, etc.
Peptide vaccine against “zombie” cells
The Japanese team identified glycoprotein B of non-metastatic melanoma (GPNMB) as a molecular target for senolytic therapy (which causes the destruction of aging cells). The analysis showed that GPNMB is a protein with a transmembrane domain enriched with aging cells in both humans and mice.
The researchers then created a peptide vaccine based on an amino acid that is part of the protein. This allows the body to create antibodies that bind to aging cells, which are destroyed by white blood cells sticking to the antibodies.
When they injected the vaccine into mice with clogged arteries, many of the accumulated aging cells were destroyed, and the areas affected by the disease were reduced. According to the researchers, when the vaccine was also administered to old mice, their fragility progressed more slowly than in unvaccinated mice.
Senolytic agents: side effects
It was previously known that the removal of aging cells improves the normal and pathological changes associated with aging in mice. At the Mayo Clinic, James Kirkland and his team found two senolytic drugs to purify aging cells: dasatinib, an antitumor drug, and quercetin, an anti-inflammatory flavonoid. This double treatment extended the mice’s life by a third (Nature Medicine, 2018). Metformin, used to treat type 2 diabetes, is another example of a drug that slows down aging.
However, most senolytic agents inhibit anti-apoptotic pathways, which increases the likelihood of off-target effects on normal tissues. The new vaccine had fewer side effects, and its effectiveness lasted longer, experts said. Their results suggest that vaccination aimed at senolytic antigens may become a potential strategy for new methods of anti-aging therapy.