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  • Writer's picturePaul Andrews

Researchers Develop New Way Of Identifying ‘Zombie’ Cells

University researchers have discovered a new way of identifying ‘zombie’ cells which drive aging and age-related diseases such as cancer, cardiac disease and neurodegenerative diseases.

A team at the University of Dundee, working in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Athens, have developed a novel compound to detect senescent cells.

Senescent cells are coined ‘zombie’ cells as they are still alive within the body, but do not function as normal. These cells are no longer capable of dividing and can negatively impact the cells around them, over time weakening our tissues, organs and immune system, and can lead to aging and disease.

The newly developed compound, named GLF16, targets a pigment within these cells that is associated with aging. The pigment, lipofuscin, is a type of cellular waste that increases as we get older.

This is the first time it has been possible to identify these cells in real time as the compound can be used in living tissues and cells, meaning senescence can be visualised as it happens.

The discovery opens new possibilities for studying how these cells, which increase in our bodies as we age, cause age-related diseases and can ultimately help develop treatments that revitalise aging tissues and organs, increasing the years of our lives where we remain healthy.

The research has been published in the journal Molecular Cell.

Professor Russell Petty, who led the team at Dundee’s School of Medicine, said, “Our population is aging and with this comes age-related diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases. Combating these diseases and increasing the healthy span of our lives is incredibly important."

“Our new development provides an unprecedented opportunity to study cell senescence in the laboratory and in human tissues, including clinical specimens such as cancers from patients, and ultimately image and track cellular senescence in human beings as part of clinical scans, capturing the aging and disease process as it occurs."

"We hope the new methodology we have developed can be applied to study the processes of cell senescence in many diseases, and in doing so, help explain how aging and disease are linked, and help develop ways of treating and preventing age related disease. Ultimately, this may help us lead healthier lives for longer.”

Professor Vassilis Gorgoulis, who led the team at the University of Athens Medical School, said, “The development of such a senescence-detecting tool is of immense importance, as ‘zombie’ cells are known to gradually lead to serious life-threatening diseases, including cancer."

“By using this tool we now have the unique opportunity to fully analyse the DNA of those cells and propose meaningful therapeutic strategies.”


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