An Israeli researcher reportedly has found the first feasible therapeutic approach to eradicating senescent cells, whose accumulation can lead to age-related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, cataracts, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and osteoporosis.

When functioning properly, cellular senescence is a positive process because it stops cells from proliferating in response to damage or stress. However, with age senescence cells tend to accumulate, leading to inflammation and various diseases.

“In small amounts, these cells can prevent tumors from growing, help wounds clot and start the healing process,” said Valery Krizhanovsky, a molecular cell biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. “But as they amass, they trigger inflammation and even cancer.”

Scientists have not been able to figure out how to get rid of senescent cells because they are resistant to the normal process of apoptosis (a sort of cell suicide) and so the “clean-up crews” of the immune system are not able to clear them away.

Krizhanovsky’s lab identified two proteins responsible for senescent cells’ resistance to apoptosis and found two effective ways to “knock down” these proteins in mice and human cells.

He believes these novel approaches could be used to treat diseases where senescent cells are present.

“Effective elimination of senescent cells [and] removal of senescent cells can prevent or delay tissue dysfunction and extend health span,” he said.

Krizhanovsky currently is developing mouse models of COPD to see whether clearing senescent cells from the lungs can prevent or ease the disease. Yeda Research and Development, the Weizmann’s tech-transfer arm, is working with Krizhanovsky to patent and license his discoveries.