T cells can be reprogrammed to slow down aging, researchers say

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  • Scientists are constantly looking for ways to help slow the aging process.
  • Researchers from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have discovered that T cells in the body can be reprogrammed to slow down and even reverse aging.
  • Using a mouse model, scientists found T cells can be used to fight off another type of cell that contributes to aging.

Even before Ponce de León supposedly found the Fountain of Youth, humans have always been looking for a way to slow the aging process.

As the number of centenarians — those who reach their 100th birthday — continues to rise, research and medical innovations are helping people to live longer, healthier lives. However, there are still plenty of new measures and methods for scientists to explore.

New research from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, NY, that says the body’s T cells — a type of white blood cell — can be reprogrammed to fight aging.

Using a mouse model, scientists found that T cells can be used to fend off another type of cell that increases as a person ages and causes inflammation, rendering the aging immune system less effective over time.

The study was recently published in the journal Nature Aging.

T cells are a type of white blood cell known as lymphocytes. They are an important part of the immune system, helping the body to find and destroy potentially harmful pathogens such as viruses and bacteria.

T cells are unique in that different T cells are designed to seek and destroy specific pathogens.

For example, a baby’s T cells will be tasked with remembering different viruses they come in contact with for the first time. Then as the baby grows and becomes older, those same T cells can be used to fight off those same viruses throughout their life.

T cells are made within the body’s bone marrow. They then move to the thymus gland to further develop. Once mature, T cells travel to the tissues and organs within the lymphatic system and circulate within the bloodstream.

Over the past few years, researchers have been looking at ways to use T cells to fight certain diseases such as cancer.

This has led to the development of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy — a type of immunotherapy where T cells are taken from a person, altered in the lab, and then infused back into the same person to fight a particular type of cancer.

Scientists have also been researching the use of CAR T-cell therapy in the treatment of non-cancer diseases such as autoimmune diseases and viral infections like HIV and hepatitis C.

Dr. Corina Amor Vegas, assistant professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) and lead author of this study, said they focused on T cells as a potential way to fight aging because the immune system is really powerful at eliminating damaged cells in younger individuals.

“Thus, we wondered whether in aging we could redirect and repower the T cells to eliminate the damaged cells that accumulate,” Dr. Amor Vegas told Medical News Today.

Dr. Amor Vegas referred to these damaged cells as “senescent cells.”

“Senescent cells are cells in our body that have accumulated a lot of damage and as a result they have stopped doing their normal jobs and instead become very inflammatory. The accumulation of these cells in tissues is really deleterious because it creates a severe proinflammatory microenvironment that prevents the other cells in the tissue from working properly too.”

— Dr. Corina Amor Vegas, lead study author

Previous studies have examined the use of senescent cells as a therapeutic target for aging and age-related diseases.

For this study, Dr. Amor Vegas and her team found they could use CAR T-cell therapy to eliminate damaged or senescent cells in mice.

Scientists found the mice treated with CAR T-cell therapy to remove senescent cells became healthier with lower body weight, improved metabolism and glucose tolerance, and increased physical activity.

“We were very excited to see that the CAR T cells were able to eliminate the senescent cells and drive these effects,” Dr. Amor Vegas said. “We were also really excited about the long-term durability of these effects.”

“Interestingly, in our work, we saw not only therapeutic effects when we treated aged animals but we also saw preventive effects,” she continued. “Thus, when we treated young animals — once, only in their youth — and we let them age, they aged better.”

When asked about future plans for this research, D. Amor Vegas said they are interested in the potential implications for the treatment of age-related diseases in humans.

“Nonetheless it’s a long road and there is still a lot more research that needs to be done to optimize the approach,” she added.

MNT also spoke with Dr. Yi Zhang, director member of the Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI), professor at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey, and co-leader of the Cancer-Host-Interaction Program at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, DC, about this study.

Dr. Zhang said that healthy aging will need wise, optimistic, and effective strategies to deal with population aging.

Currently, Dr. Zhang added, how tissues undergo senescence and how senescent cells trigger harmful inflammation remain poorly defined.

“(Dr. Amor Vegas’) study discovers an innovative strategy that can be leveraged to not only address these questions but also to facilitate the elimination of senescent cells,” Dr. Zhang explained.

“In addition, given the fact that CAR T-cell treatment has transformed (the) treatment of cancer in human patients, this study also provides a proof-of-concept that programming T cells with CARs specific to markers associated with senescent cells will find new applications to improving the health of aging humans.”

“Many efforts have been made to develop small molecule drugs to clear senescent cells, namely senolytic therapies. However, these studies are limited by poorly defined molecular pathways that mediate senescence and its associated chronic inflammatory damage to normal tissues during aging.

Future research is needed to address this issue. In addition, it is important to investigate how the study using a mouse system can be translated into a senolytic therapy in humans.”

— Dr. Yi Zhang, director member of the Center for Discovery and Innovation

Read the full article here

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