Removing ‘zombie cells’ in the brain could help battle the effects of dementia

zombie cell mouse model dementia senescentcells
Mayo Clinic

No, this isn’t a plot twist straight out of The Walking Dead: “Zombie cells” are a real thing, referring to cells which go into a type of suspended animation as your body gets older. Just like in any fictional zombie invasion, the longer you wait around, the more of these so-called senescent cells turn up. But here’s the good news: Stopping the accumulation of these cells could potentially help stave off or even reduce the effects of cognitive decline in the brain, including types of dementia.

“In previous studies, we and others have shown that senescent cells, which are irreversibly growth-arrest cells that acquire a distinctive pro-inflammatory phenotype, accumulate with age and at sites of pathology,” Darren Baker, a Mayo Clinic molecular biologist, who led the study, told Digital Trends. “In recent years, they have been shown to actively contribute to aging and a variety of age-related diseases. In this study, we tested whether senescent cell accumulation promoted neurodegeneration in mice.”

In their study, the researchers used a mouse model which imitated aspects of Alzheimer’s disease. This was achieved by using genetic engineering to create an altered version of the brain protein tau, which resulted in the mice losing the ability to recall new information. When the mice were given an enzyme to eliminate the buildup of senescent cells, these signs of dementia disappeared. This resulted in them regaining the ability to form memories, eliminated signs of inflammation, and more.

As exciting as this research is, however, it’s important to note that this is still early days. Science’s understanding of the exact relationship between senescent cells and human diseases is still sketchy. Baker also stressed that carrying the work over to human subjects is not in the cards for the near future.

“My laboratory is focused on the molecular understanding of senescence to aging and age-related diseases using mice as a model system,” he said. “We have shown the benefits in animals without adverse effects, but we have no idea if the same cells can be effectively or safely targeted in people.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Science.

Emerging Tech

Resupply mission carries 7,600 pounds of scientific equipment to ISS

The Cygnus spacecraft has rendezvoused with the International Space Station as part of a months-long resupply mission. The craft will remain docked until July 23, while the crew take in the 7,600 pounds of research equipment it carried.

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.

The best of the last generation: Our 50 favorite Xbox 360 games

The Xbox 360 thrived during a generation where games were plentiful. Here's our list of the best Xbox 360 games of all time, including all game genres and even a few special indie hits.
Emerging Tech

Scientists manage to 3D print an actual heart using human cells

Scientists at Tel Aviv University have achieved a world-first by 3D printing a small-scale heart, complete with blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers. Here's why that's so exciting.
Emerging Tech

U.S. police are testing out Batman-style bola guns to catch criminals

U.S. police are taking a page out of Batman’s playbook with a new grappling hook gun, called the BolaWrap, which fires out a kevlar cord able to tie up assailants in the blink of an eye.
Emerging Tech

U.S., U.K. embrace autonomous robot spy subs that can stay at sea for months

Unmanned, autonomous robot spy submarines that are able to stay at sea for months at a time may be coming to both the United States and its ally across the pond, the U.K. Here's what we know so far.
Emerging Tech

Meet the gene-edited bacteria that could make cannabis plants obsolete

Ever wanted to brew cannabis like you brew craft beer? At UC Berkeley, biologists have managed to engineer brewer’s yeast so that it produces the main cannabinoids found in marijuana.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Facebook data security, Ubisoft helps Notre Dame, and more

Join DT Live as we discuss Facebook security issues, Ubisoft's plan to help rebuild Notre Dame, and more. We are also joined by Emily Teteut of Snap the Gap, Jennifer Sendrow of New York Public Radio, and DJ and producer Zeke Thomas.
Emerging Tech

Planet-hunting satellite discovers its first Earth-sized planet

NASA's planet hunting satellite, TESS, has made a new discovery. Last month the satellite discovered its first exoplanet. And now it has achieved another milestone, locating its first Earth-sized planet and a larger sibling planet.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers surprised to find deep lakes of methane on Titan

In the two years since the Cassini probe burned up in Saturn's rings, data from its recordings is still being analyzed. The latest research has shown that Saturn's largest moon, Titan, hosts deep liquid lakes of methane on its surface.
Emerging Tech

Happy birthday, Hubble! Telescope celebrates with image of Southern Crab Nebula

In 1990 the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into low Earth orbit, where it has remained for nearly three decades collecting information about deep space. To celebrate its birthday, Hubble imaged the beautiful Southern Crab Nebula.
Emerging Tech

Star gives off superflare equal to 80 billion megatonnes of TNT. That’s a lot

A tiny star the size of Jupiter has been observed giving off a massive superflare 10 times more powerful than any flare from our Sun. The findings are raising questions about how much energy small stars can hold.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robots that eat landmines and clean your floors

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

SpaceX experiences problem during test, Crew Dragon capsule may have exploded

SpaceX has experienced a problem during the testing of its Crew Dragon capsule. During the engine test firing at Cape Canaveral yesterday afternoon, an unspecified anomaly occurred which lead to plumes of smoke rising from the test site.