Zombies have been everywhere in pop culture for the last decade — movies, TV, comics and novels. Even scientists have been researching zombies. No, they aren’t looking at the undead rising from their graves to eat the brains of the living. They are studying cells that die but refuse to stop.
Zombie cells, or senescent cells, are normal cells that encountered stress, such as a virus or other DNA-damaging illness. They can either die or go into suspended animation. In that state, they secrete harmful chemicals, damaging the cells around them. This causes age related changes.
Studies into these zombie cells are new, the field has barely been discovered, scientists are quickly moving to research the find as zombie cells have now been linked to a laundry list of health problems including, “osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, enlargement of the heart, kidney problems, clogged arteries and age-related loss of muscle,” as well as vision problems and more.
Moreover, animal studies have seen clear links between these undead cells and aging. Mice studies have shown that if these cells are removed by drugs, the mice act younger. When older mice were treated to remove them, the mice showed improvements to walking, gripping and lived an average of 36 percent longer. When young mice were injected with the cells, they showed the reverse, they walked slower, had weaker grips and couldn’t walk as far.
Thus far, only one study has looked at the cells in humans. While it is currently the only published human study, it showed very promising results. People with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis were treated for the cells. The participants in the study showed some improvements, but many more studies will be needed to yield more information. The lead researcher, Dr. James Kirkland at Mayo Clinic, believes the field has promise. Dr. Kirkland believes that, currently, 12 companies have been formed to do more studies in hopes of producing treatments for the cells.
The researchers are fast to point out that, should you encounter any supplements claiming to protect you from zombie cells, do not try them, there have been nowhere near enough studies to prove the efficacy of any treatment. They are also unsure if there will ever be a way to use the research to prevent aging. While it can’t stop aging, there is hope that the advancement of this technology can make the treatments the new anti-aging front. In the meantime, speak to your doctor about your health concerns to learn about what approved treatments or supplements might be beneficial to you.
The image above shows two zombie human fibroblast cells, above, next to normal ones in Minneapolis, Minn. Image: Matthew Yousefzadeh, Mariah Witt, Univ. of Minnesota via AP