Research carried out at the University of Minnesota together with scientists at the Mayo Clinic suggests a new way to reduce mortality and severe illness among elderly people who have been infected with Covid-19.
In a preclinical study (the stage of drug testing that involves trials on animals, designed to determine the safety of a new treatment), the researchers found that the use of senolytic drugs was able to significantly reduce death among mice infected with a virus very similar to SARS-CoV-2.
Senolytic drugs are a type of agent that selectively removes old, damaged cells in the human body. These cells, known as senescent cells, cause inflammation and various chronic diseases, and the number of them increases as we get older.
The study aimed to explain why older people are much more vulnerable to suffering from chronic illness or dying as a result of infection with Covid-19. The research team theorized that the problem lay in senescent (old) cells, and that removing them through senolytic drug treatment would help reduce inflammation in individuals and ensure they were able to fight viral infection more effectively.
The investigators discovered that the survival rate of mice infected with a coronavirus increased by 50% when they were given senolytic drugs, with the treatment helping to reduce cellular aging and inflammation and increase anti-viral antibodies. This contrasts with the finding that older mice almost always died when infected with the virus if not treated with the drugs, while younger mice suffered only mild illness.
The team argues that these findings prove the validity of an alternative approach to helping older adults remain healthy amid the coronavirus pandemic, centered on using therapeutics (medical treatments and drugs) to treat aging, as opposed to treating individual diseases associated with old age. They predict that elderly patients with Covid-19 will have a greater chance of survival if doctors focus on tackling the number of senescent cells in their bodies at the time of infection.
The study was carried out as part of the prelude to a clinical trial aimed at reducing mortality in older Covid-19 patients, with the team now focusing its efforts on finding out whether senescent cells contribute to ‘long Covid’ experienced by many survivors of the virus.