Cancer implications as new molecule could kill ‘zombie’ cells

Over time, the body’s cells stop working properly and start to accumulate, which eventually leads to tissue aging. Researchers at UOC (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) in Spain, in collaboration with the University of Leicester in England have discovered a new molecule capable of destroying aged cells without affecting healthy ones.

This paved the way for being able to delay the aging of body tissues and ultimately, to improve the quality of life and life expectancy of humans. For now, the results, which have been published in open access format in the journal Aging, have been obtained in vitro cells, and testing with animal models will now commence.

During a person’s life, cells are subjected to various types of stress, such as solar radiation, which causes mutations to accumulate. The body activates defense mechanisms at some point to prevent tumors from developing: the cells either ‘kill themselves’ in a process known as apoptosis, or they grow old, which is a sort of ‘zombie’ state between life and death. , where he no longer functions while still alive, and he also begins to manufacture products that replicate the zombie state in other healthy cells around him. While the organism is young, the immune system can remove these cells and clear the tissue.

Increase life expectancy

However, as we get older, the immune system stops doing these treatments; the reason why this happened is unknown. This means that these zombie cells start accumulating in our tissues, destroying the way they work, and causing aging. Animal studies have shown that by administering drugs called senolytics, which are able to remove these senescent cells, it is possible to increase the life expectancy and quality of life of animals.

The researchers, led by Salvador Macip, dean of the UOC School of Health Sciences and professor of Molecular Medicine at the University of Leicester, have identified a molecule called CUDC-907 that destroys senescent cells quite efficiently and specifically, with few side effects on health. cell.

“The drug we identified is a powerful destroyer of old cells and its effect on some types of cancer is also currently being investigated, so it can have a double effect: it is anti-cancer and at the same time, it can work against the aging cells that make cancer appear. back,” said Macip.

Reducing cancer recurrence

In cancer, this drug, which works by blocking the communication pathways of two cells – one of which was hitherto unknown and had been discovered by Macip’s team – is being investigated to remove cells that are badly damaged by chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment but which do not die, and instead it gets old, which can cause tumors to reappear.

“This drug can be given with chemotherapy or radiotherapy to destroy these zombie cells and thus, greatly reduce cancer recurrence,” said Macip.

In the study, the researchers used a different human cancer cell model, and found that the dual inhibitors of CUDC-907 eliminated certain types of senescent cells with limited side effects. They will now begin testing with animal models, and if they get good results, they will test them in humans. Researchers believe the drug could also have applications in diseases where accumulation of senescent cells plays a role, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“Perhaps intensive doses of drugs will cleanse the brain and prevent the disease from developing. It could also be useful in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, to slow its progression, rather than aging itself,” said Macip.

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