Key target for rejuvenation treatments needs ‘re-brand’

‘Senescence’ involves range of processes and cells that have both positive and negative functions – so targeting them as responsible for ageing not true

Photograph of an older woman against a dark background

The quest for rejuvenation treatments often targets senescent cells, despite them having a positive physiological role in health in many recent cases, a leading researcher has warned.

In a paper published in Science today (Thursday 20 June), Professor Joao Pedro de Magalhaes from the University of Birmingham identifies that senescent cells which have been variously referred to as responsible for ageing actually have various positive health impacts and targeting them therapeutically could be detrimental.

Professor de Magalhaes highlights the important role that cellular senescence plays in the development of several tissues and organs as well as:

  • inflammation and wound healing,
  • tumour suppression,
  • insulin secretion in pancreatic beta cells,
  • and has structural roles in the vascular system and placenta.

Senescence has also been observed in tissue regeneration in some animals including in mice, where hepatic stellate cells which are crucial to normal liver functioning become senescent following injury.

....targeting senescent cells therapeutically entails risks and may not be the way to go in order to tackle ageing

Professor Joao Pedro de Magalhaes

Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, Professor of Molecular Biogerontology at the University of Birmingham and author of the paper said:

“The role of cellular senescence in ageing and age-related diseases is a major area of research, which has led to the ongoing development of therapies targeting senescent cells.

“Recent findings, however, have revealed a surprising and growing number of normal physiological roles of senescent cells. Strikingly, these results showing that senescent cells play important physiological roles and raise major questions about the rationale, efficacy and safety of targeting senescent cells therapeutically.

"While it’s clear that there are some instances in which cellular senescence is implicated in ageing diseases, targeting senescent cells therapeutically entails risks and may not be the way to go in order to tackle ageing.”

Notes for editors

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  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 8,000 international students from over 150 countries.

  • The University of Birmingham is a founding member of Birmingham Health Partners (BHP), a strategic alliance which transcends organisational boundaries to rapidly translate healthcare research findings into new diagnostics, drugs and devices for patients. Birmingham Health Partners is a strategic alliance between seven organisations who collaborate to bring healthcare innovations through to clinical application:
    • University of Birmingham
    • University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust
    • Birmingham Women's and Children's Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
    • Aston University
    • The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
    • Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust
    • West Midlands Academic Health Science Network
    • Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust