Science Saturday: Turning back the clock on aging

man waking up from sleep and turning off alarm clock

Researchers at Mayo Clinic are probing ways to activate the body’s regenerative potential to slow the clock on chronic conditions that set in as we age. From cancer to diabetes to Alzheimer’s disease, another birthday adds to a person’s risk of developing chronic disease.

September is Healthy Aging Month, a time to focus on the positive aspects of aging. Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine, which is leading a therapeutic paradigm shift from treating disease to restoring health, is working collaboratively with researchers in the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging. Together they are seeking to solve the puzzle of why the body’s healing abilities wane as a person grows older.  

“We’re quite interested in what it is it about aging that compromises the ability of our bodies to rejuvenate. We want to know what it is about the process of aging that leads to the molecular and cellular damage associated with different diseases and geriatric syndromes,” says Nathan LeBrasseur, Ph.D., a researcher within the Kogod Center and lead investigator in regenerative medicine of aging.

The aim of Mayo’s research is not to increase life span, but to increase health span — delaying the onset of disease and disability as long as possible in order to live a healthier, higher quality of life in the years a person does have.

Senescent cells and regeneration

Cell senescence, a state of growth arrest, plays a key role in aging. Damage to cells — and particularly their DNA — due to natural aging processes or environmental factors such as cigarette smoke, causes cells to become senescent. Senescent cells no longer divide and differentiate. They then lose their ability to repair tissue. Also called zombie cells, senescent cells secrete harmful proteins and chemicals, creating sort of a “toxic soil” locally, if not globally, that disrupts the function of stem cells. That can sap the body’s ability to heal from injury.

Though senescent cells are relatively few, they accumulate with advancing age. Ultimately, they contribute to disease and failing health. Dr. LeBrasseur compares it to one bad apple spoiling a whole bushel.

Read the rest of the article on the Center for Regenerative Medicine blog.


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