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Scientists may have unlocked the secret to longer, healthier life

First come the mice, then the humans. That’s the hope, at least, when it comes to life extension research. According to scientists at Mayo Clinic, the trick to longer life lies in the suicide of senescent, or aging, cells. Those building blocks that are no longer capable of division and accumulation apparently have a negative impact on our health, and their elimination may lead to a 35 percent extension of life.

While preliminary results in research examining this theory have only been seen in mice, researchers are hopeful that these latest discoveries may have broader implications for other lifeforms as well, potentially delaying tumor formation, preserving tissue and organ function, and all in all, keeping us healthier (and alive) for longer.

To conduct their research, scientists worked with genetically modified mice who could respond to a compound known as AP20187, an anti-cancer drug that can also target aging cells. They found mice treated with AP20187 not only lived 17 to 35 percent longer, but also did not develop tumors as quickly, nor did their organs deteriorate as a result of age at the same advanced rate.

“What we found is as we are aging, we accumulate more and more of those dead [senescent] cells,” Jan van Deursen, chair of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Mayo Clinic and co-author on the study, told Newsweek. “But they are not innocent bystanders; they secrete a number of proteins that have a negative impact on the surrounding cells and deregulate those cells.” And if we get rid of them, we could be doing our bodies a huge favor.

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Calling these cells “litter,” van Deursen notes that as we age, we essentially accumulate “a cell type that we really don’t need for anything and that makes us more unhealthy and reduces the length of our healthy lives.” The research into senescent cells not only proves that there’s a potential method for extending life, but ensures that the extended life will be one worth living.