Lab Mouse
The life expectancy of mice can be increased by as much as 35% by removing senescent cells using a genetically engineered compoundPeter Parks/Getty

Scientists have increased the lifespan of mice by as much as 35% and researchers say this could one day prolong the lives of humans too.

They discovered that senescent cells – cells that no longer replicate as organisms get older – build up with age, and contribute to age-related illnesses including cancer.

Once these cells were taken away from mice, which theoretically should be coming to the end of their lives, they managed to live for a much longer period of time, some by as much as 35% longer than average.

The researchers believe that this finding could one day lead to a prolonged life in humans, assuming the effects of removing senescent cells is the same in humans as it was in mice.

The study, published in the journal Nature, used a compound called AP20187 to remove senescent cells from healthy mice. They found that the risk of tumours was significantly reduced, as well as the number of age-related diseases which affect multiple organs.

"Senescent cells that accumulate with ageing do bad things to your organs and tissues, and therefore shorten your life [and] also the healthy phase of your life," said Jan van Deursen, lead author of the paper from Mayo Clinic. "And since you can eliminate the cells without negative side effects, it seems like our findings would be useful for therapies against age-related disabilities or diseases or conditions."

The genetically engineered compound AP20187 eliminated these senescent cells, and effectively increased the lifespan of the mice by an average 25% and in some cases up to 35%. They injected the mice with the compound twice a week after they turned one year old.

Van Deursen also said that the general appearance of the mice seemed healthier, and the inflammation in their muscle, fat and kidney tissue was reduced.

"The advantage of targeting senescent cells is that clearance of just 60-70% can have significant therapeutic effects," said Darren Baker, researcher on the study. "If translatable, because senescent cells do not proliferate rapidly, a drug could efficiently and quickly eliminate enough of them to have profound impacts on healthspan and lifespan."

The average life expectancy of a UK male is around 79 years old, while females live for slightly longer, at an estimated 83 years.