King’s College London is working on a project to fight ‘zombie’ cells in the body in an effort to improve age-related conditions.
Zombies. For horror aficionados and those with overactive imaginations, they’re their biggest fear.
But what many don’t know is that as we age, our bodies create their own ‘zombie’ cells which are linked to life-threatening disorders such as heart disease and cancer. These ‘zombie’ cells even refuse to die.
That’s why King’s College London has launched a new project aimed at eliminating these so-called ‘zombie’ cells using a new group of drugs known as senolytics.
Senolytics have been shown to eliminate zombie cells and also improve age-related conditions such osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, kidney problems and loss of muscle. Overall, senolytics are thought to improve poor physical function, whilst also extending lifespan.
This group of drugs gets their name from the ageing process called ‘senescence’, which involves the build-up of senescent cells – or ‘zombie’ cells.
And much like our flesh-eating monsters, senescent cells are able to turn other cells by releasing harmful chemicals that causes them to become ‘zombified’. A build-up of these cells in the body then promotes ageing and the occurrence of age-related conditions.
Now, thanks to a grant of over £125,000 from Heart Research UK, King’s College London will use senolytic drugs, which eliminate or disable zombie cells, to gain a better understanding into their benefits on the ageing process.
The team will test senolytic drugs on zombie human heart cells which have been grown alongside healthy heart cells. This will enable them to determine if eliminating zombie cells or stopping the harmful chemicals they produce improves the survival and growth of heart muscle cells, as well as their ability to repair the heart.
The team’s findings could pave the way for future senolytic developments to treat age-related heart disorders and the toxic effect of cancer chemotherapy on the heart.
Project lead professor Ellison-Hughes said: “The treatment of zombie ‘senescent’ cells is an incredibly interesting area of research, and this project has the potential to change the way we treat a whole range of conditions.
“Ageing is something that we can’t control, but we may be able to reduce some of the risks that it poses to our health. We are extremely grateful to Heart Research UK for allowing us to undertake this vital research.”
Kate Bratt-Farrar, chief executive of Heart Research UK, said: “We are delighted to be supporting the research of Prof Ellison-Hughes and her team, which has the potential to have a big impact on the way that we treat a whole range of heart conditions.
“Our Translational Research Project Grants are all about bridging the gap between laboratory-based scientific research and patient care – they aim to bring the latest developments to patients as soon as possible.
“The dedication we see from our researchers is both encouraging and impressive and Heart Research UK is so proud to be part of it.”