New U team turns back the clock on aging cells

What does aging look like on the cellular level, and how does it affect our experience of getting older? Those are the questions two of the Medical School’s newest experts are trying to answer. 

Hired in June as the director and associate director, respectively, of the new Institute on the Biology of Aging and Metabolism, Laura Niedernhofer, M.D., Ph.D., and Paul Robbins, Ph.D., are exploring the molecular events that lead to aging and are developing tools to influence life span, health span, and quality of life. The duo also leads one of the Medical School’s four Medical Discovery Teams, formed with funding from the Minnesota Legislature.

Their new research shows that it’s possible to reverse damage caused by aging cells. Aging begins at the cellular level, and aging cells can quicken senescence, or the halt of cellular growth, which can result in health problems. But the team’s research, published in Nature Medicine in August, shows that small molecules called senolytics can reverse the impact of aged, senescent cells.

“We’ve always thought of aging as a process, not a disease,” Robbins says. “But what if we can influence the impacts of aging at a cellular level to promote healthy aging? That’s what senolytics seeks to achieve.”

Although the research is currently in animal models, scientists hope that senolytics will prove effective in alleviating physical dysfunction and the resulting loss of independence in older humans in the future.

The duo continues to pursue novel ways to slow aging at the cellular level. In October, they published additional research in EBioMedicine showing that treatment of aged mice with the natural product Fisetin — found in many fruits and vegetables — has positive effects on health and life span by reducing the level of damaged and aging cells in the body.

Published on October 17, 2018