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Scientists in Japan have unveiled a new vaccine that they claim can eliminate so-called “zombie cells” associated with aging and various diseases.
The research team behind the vaccine, led by professor Toru Minamino of Juntendo University, published the results of their study on Friday in the Nature Aging journal. According to these results, mice given the vaccine show decreased levels of senescent cells, aka “zombie cells,” which accumulate with age and are associated with conditions like arthritis and the stiffening of arteries, The Japan Times reported.
“We can expect that [the vaccine] will be applied to the treatment of arterial stiffening, diabetes and other aging-related diseases,” Minamino wrote.
Senescent cells are defined as cells that, over time, stop dividing but do not die off. These cells begin to release harmful chemicals, damaging normal cells and causing inflammation. The vaccine reportedly creates antibodies that attach themselves to senescent cells, allowing them to be removed by white blood cells.
Mice given the vaccine were found to develop signs of frailty associated with old age at a slower rate compared to unvaccinated mice. The team claimed that its new vaccine has fewer negative side effects than anti-senescent cell treatments currently on the market, while also lasting longer.
Anti-aging treatments and solutions remain a major pursuit for scientists and often attract huge investors eager to slow the aging process and combat the diseases associated with it.
“You have no idea how many people are interested in investing money in longevity,” Nir Barzilai, founding director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told Newsweek. “There are billions of dollars.”
From 2011 to 2014, studies published by the company Alkahest found that blood taken from younger mice had considerable beneficial effects on brain health when administered to older mice. Since then, its researchers have identified around 8,000 proteins in blood that may be usable in anti-aging therapies.
Earlier in 2021, the company was acquired by Grifols in a deal worth $146 million. So far, the Alkahest and Grifols have managed to get six treatments to phase 2 trials, targeting a number of age-related illnesses and conditions, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Some scientists have hypothesized that age-related diseases are the natural consequence of advances in science and medicine that have allowed humans to extend their lifespans over the century.
“If you put this work in an evolutionary perspective, we were not supposed to live that long,” Gerard Karsenty, chair of the Department of Genetics and Development at Columbia University Medical Center, explained. “Aging is an invention of mankind. No animal species has successfully cheated its own body—cheated nature—except mankind. Elephants may live for 100 years but they lived for 100 years a million years ago. Humans have outsmarted their own body.”