Judith Campisi has been a leading figure in the biology of aging since the early 1990s, when her research on the basic mechanisms of cancer revealed an unexpected finding—that cells enter a phase known as senescence that prevents them from becoming cancerous. More than 25 years later, the insight has led to a new kind of drug that may slow or modestly reverse human aging.
In the past five years, this insight has led to the pursuit of a new class of drugs known as senolytics, which eliminate senescent cells.
She recently discussed her work with Stephen S. Hall.
…[Hall:] How specifically does senescence contribute to aging? [Campisi:] The correct way to think about senescence is that it’s an evolutionary balancing act. It was selected for the good purpose of preventing cancer—if [cells] don’t divide, [they] can’t form a tumor. It also optimizes tissue repair. But the downside is if these cells persist, which happens during aging, they can now become deleterious. Evolution doesn’t care what happens to you after you’ve had your babies, so after around age 50, there are no mechanisms that can effectively eliminate these cells in old age. They tend to accumulate. So the idea became popular to think about eliminating them, and seeing if we can restore tissues to a more youthful state.
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