New class of drugs targets aging to help keep you healthy

ROCHESTER, Minnesota — Researchers have turned the spotlight on a new class of drugs that they say could “transform” the field of medicine — and the drugs work by targeting aging.

The researchers, from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, are calling for senolytic drugs to make the leap from animal research to human clinical trials. They outlined potential clinical trial scenarios in a paper published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society on Monday.

“This is one of the most exciting fields in all of medicine or science at the moment,” said Dr. James Kirkland, director of the Kogod Center on Aging at the Mayo Clinic and lead author of the new paper.

As we age, we accumulate senescent cells, which are damaged cells that resist dying off but stay in our bodies. They can affect other cells in our various organs and tissues. Senolytic drugs are agents capable of killing problem-causing senescent cells in your body without harming your normal, healthy cells.

Senescent cells play a role in many age-related chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, most cancers, dementia, arthritis, osteoporosis and blindness, Kirkland said. Therefore, senolytic drugs are a possible treatment approach for such diseases.

As a practicing physician, Kirkland said that he has grown increasingly concerned for his patients who are sick with many of these age-related conditions.

“The same processes that cause aging seem to be the root causes of age-related diseases,” he said. “Why not target the root cause of all of these things? That would have been a pipe dream until a few years back.”

In 2015, scientists from The Scripps Research Instituteand the Mayo Clinic, including Kirkland, identified this new class of drugs. In a study published in the journal Aging Cell, they described how senolytic drugs can alleviate symptoms of frailty in mice and extend the length of time the mice are healthy as they grow old.

Then, last year, the researchers demonstrated in a study in Aging Cell that clearing senescent cells in mice can improve their vascular health.

Fourteen senolytic drugs have been discovered and are being actively studied, 11 of which Kirkland’s colleagues and their collaborators found, he said.