Dr Baker developed a drug that when given to genetically altered mice would kill cells which had reached their Hayflick limits while leaving other cells untouched. Hayflick limited cells had reach senescence.
The results were spectacular. Mice given the drug every three days from birth suffered far less age-related body-wasting than those which were not. They lost less fatty tissue. Their muscles remained plump (and effective, too, according to treadmill tests). And they did not suffer cataracts of the eye. They did, though, continue to experience age-related problems in tissues that do not produce P16INK4A as they get old. In particular, their hearts and blood vessels aged normally (or, rather, what passes for normally in mice with progeria). For that reason, since heart failure is the main cause of death in such mice, their lifespans were not extended.
The drug, Dr Baker found, produced some benefit even if it was administered to a mouse only later in life. Though it could not clear cataracts that had already formed, it partly reversed muscle-wasting and fatty-tissue loss. Such mice were thus healthier than their untreated confrères.
The most intriguing thing Dr Baker’s result provides is a new way of thinking about how to slow the process of ageing—and one that works with the grain of nature, rather than against it.
Existing lines of inquiry into prolonging lifespan are based either on removing the Hayflick limit, which would have all sorts of untoward consequences, or suppressing production of the oxidative chemicals that are believed to cause much of the cellular damage which is bracketed together and labelled as senescence. But these chemicals are a by-product of the metabolic activity that powers the body. If 4 billion years of natural selection have not dealt with them it suggests that suppressing them may have worse consequences than not suppressing them.
By contrast, actually eliminating senescent cells may be a logical extension of the process of shutting them down (they certainly cannot cause cancer if they are dead), and thus may not have adverse consequences. It is not an elixir of life, for eventually the body will run out of cells, as more and more of them reach their Hayflick limits. But it could be a way of providing a healthier and more robust old age than people currently enjoy.
Science news description is that axing cellular zombies may slow aging. The senescent cells are molecular zombies.