What Are Zombie Cells, Exactly?

If you’re fortunate enough, you will age and, along with that, your body will begin to exhibit signs of aging. The exact cause of this process is still being investigated, but scientists have largely linked the aging process to senescent cells, also known as zombie cells.

A recent study explains how zombie cells develop and specifically links them to age-related diseases like cancer, dementia, and heart disease. It was published in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

According to the study, telomere damage—which results from an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body—to chromosomes’ protective ends can lead to the development of zombie cells.

Zombie cell research is not new; for years, researchers have studied these cells and how they affect aging.

Fair enough if you’ve never heard of zombie cells. However, you undoubtedly have some, if not a lot, of questions about what these are and how they affect aging. Here is an explanation.

What is zombie cells?

It’s crucial to quickly review how your body’s cells function. A cell divides into two identical cells and duplicates all of its internal components during a process known as mitosis, according to Medline Plus. You can develop health issues like cancer when mitosis is improperly regulated.

According to the National Institutes of Health, senescent cells, also known as zombie cells, are cells that have stopped dividing. According to Sabrina Barata, M.D., a primary care physician at Mercy Personal Physicians, when you’re younger, your immune system detects these cells and expels them from your body. However, as you age, your immune system’s capacity to do this decreases.

What carry out zombie cells?

Simply put, zombie cells remain in your body. According to scientist Paul Robbins, Ph.D., associate director of the Institute on the Biology of Aging and Metabolism and the Medical Discovery Team on the Biology of Aging at the University of Minnesota, “They don’t die—they become resistant to death.” “They remain in your body permanently.”

According to Dr. Robbins, certain molecules released by these cells have the potential to cause inflammation and even damage other cells. According to the NIH, they’ve also been connected to the development of cancerous cells.

Senescence, according to Dr. Robbins, is viewed as an anti-cancer mechanism because it prevents cells that may have turned abnormal from proliferating.

Do all people possess zombie cells?

Everyone does have these cells, according to Dr. Robbins’ hypothesis. “As you age, your cell burden increases, and older people or those with chronic illnesses may have more.”

According to the NIH, cells stop dividing once they have gone through enough divisions or undergone enough mutations to put them in danger of developing abnormalities or possibly causing you harm.

How do zombie cells fit into the aging process?

As people age, zombie cells become more prevalent. When you’re young, your immune system can get rid of these cells effectively, but as you age, it is less able to do so, according to Dr. Robbins. Changing these cells has been found to help extend life, at least in mice, according to research.

The Mayo Clinic’s Jan van Deursen, Ph.D., performed ground-breaking research that successfully eliminated zombie cells from alive mice. Van Deursen and his team found that injecting a particular drug caused these zombie cells to die.

Depending on the mice’s sex, diet, and genetic makeup, the team discovered that treating mice to get rid of zombie cells increased their median lifespans by 17% to 42%. The treated mice also frequently appeared younger and were more likely to engage in spontaneous activity and object exploration—signs of youth—than the untreated mice.

Could the secret to a longer life lie in the study of zombie cells?

Currently, doctors hold that opinion. Santosh Kesari, M.D., Ph.D., a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., and the regional medical director for the Research Clinical Institute of Providence Southern Calif., asserts that “if we understand why senescent cells happen and how to reverse them, we have the ability to have healthier aging with less debility.”

Zombies cells are “interconnected” with other “things that go wrong as we age,” according to Dr. Robbins. He lists some of them as stem cell dysfunction, metabolic changes, and problems with your mitochondria, which produce the energy your cells need to function.

According to Dr. Robbins, if one of these things is impacted, the others will be as well. They are all connected. He claims that your metabolism and energy levels may increase if you can find and eliminate zombie cells.

Studying these cells, according to Dr. Barata, “absolutely” contributes to improvements in healthy aging. They won’t build up in the body if we can figure out a way to kill off these cells, she claims. That will shield us from conditions like dementia, some cancers, and heart disease.

The effects of attacking zombie cells on conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, osteoarthritis, and diabetes are currently the subject of research. Dr. Robbins predicts that “within a few years, we will know their impact.”

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