'Zombie cells' causing age-related diseases could be eliminated by new vaccine

Japanese scientists say treatment could stop arterial stiffening, diabetes and other ailments

Scientists in Japan are developing a treatment to stop age-related diseases. Julia Koblitz

“Zombie cells” that damage other cells as we get older, causing age-related diseases such as arterial stiffening, could be eliminated by a new vaccine.

Scientists in Japan are developing a treatment which they say could be used to stop the effects of diabetes and other diseases that occur more often in later life.

The team found mice administered with the vaccine showed decreases in senescent cells – often called zombie cells – and in areas affected by arterial stiffening.

Senescent cells refer to those that have stopped dividing but do not die. They damage nearby healthy cells by releasing chemicals that cause inflammation.

“We can expect that [the vaccine] will be applied to the treatment of arterial stiffening, diabetes and other ageing-related diseases,” Juntendo University professor Toru Minamino said. The research was published online by the Nature Aging journal.

The team identified a protein found in the cells in humans and mice and created a vaccine based on an amino acid that enables the body to create antibodies which attach themselves to senescent cells. The cells are removed by white blood cells that stick to the antibodies.

Fewer negative side effects

When the team administered the vaccine to mice with arterial stiffening, many of the senescent cells were removed and areas affected by the disease shrank.

When administered to aged mice, their frailty progression was slower than that of unvaccinated mice, the team said.

Many of the existing drugs to remove senescent cells are used as anticancer agents and may cause negative side effects. Side effects from the new vaccine were fewer, while its efficacy lasted longer, the team said.

Updated: December 13th 2021, 10:52 AM