Healthy ageing: eliminating zombie cells in the heart 

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King’s College London has received funding from Heart Research UK to research ways of eliminating zombie cells that impact the heart

The £125,000 grant from Heart Research UK will allow researchers to utilise a new group of drugs to combat zombie cells that have an impact on healthy ageing.

What are zombie cells?

‘Senescence’ is the term given to the biological ageing process which involves the build-up of senescent cells, called zombie cells, which refuse to die.

Ageing is the greatest risk factor for many life-threatening disorders, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. Zombie cells release chemicals that can be harmful to nearby cells, eventually causing them to also become senescent. The build-up of these zombie cells in our bodies promotes ageing and age-related conditions, including cardiovascular disease.

Senolytics as a treatment

Professor Georgina Ellison-Hughes, who is a professor of Regenerative Muscle Physiology at King’s College London, will lead the project. The project will entail testing a new group of drugs called senolytics, which should be able to eliminate or disable zombie cells.

Ellison-Hughes said: “The treatment of zombie ‘senescent’ cells is an incredibly interesting area of research, and this project has the potential to change the way we treat a whole range of conditions. Ageing is something that we can’t control, but we may be able to reduce some of the risks that it poses to our health. We are extremely grateful to Heart Research UK for allowing us to undertake this vital research.”

Previously, senolytics have been shown to eliminate zombie cells and improve conditions such as cataracts, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney problems, and age-related loss of muscle. They have shown to improve poor physical function and extend health span and overall lifespan.

Understanding how zombie cells affect the heart

The study will use a lab model where zombie cells in the human heart are grown with healthy human heart cells with the aim to understand how these cells are harmful to cells within a healthy heart.

The effect of the senolytic drugs will determine if by eliminating zombie cells and stopping the harmful chemicals they produce will improve the survival and growth of the heart muscle cells. If successful, the findings may pave the way for the development of senolytics to treat age-related heart disorders and the toxic effects of cancer chemotherapy on the heart.

Heart Research UK’s commitment to battling cardiovascular issues

Kate Bratt-Farrar, Chief Executive of Heart Research UK, said: “We are delighted to be supporting the research of Prof Ellison-Hughes and her team, which has the potential to have a big impact on the way that we treat a whole range of heart conditions.

“Our Translational Research Project Grants are all about bridging the gap between laboratory-based scientific research and patient care – they aim to bring the latest developments to patients as soon as possible. The dedication we see from our researchers is both encouraging and impressive and Heart Research UK is so proud to be part of it.”

The £126,441 Translational Research Project grant was awarded to King’s College London as part of Heart Research UK’s annual awards for research into the prevention, treatment and cure of heart disease. Last year, Heart Research UK awarded more than £1.6 million in grants for medical research projects across the UK. To date, the charity has invested more than £25 million in medical research via its grants programme.

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