Scientists have identified the anti-inflammatory anakinra, already used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, as a potential option for rejuvenating blood production in the elderly and reducing the risk of blood-related diseases and health problems.
In tests on mice, the drug was shown to effectively rewind the hematopoietic system, which is responsible for blood production, in time.
Anakinra works by blocking the inflammatory signal interleukin-1β (IL-1β), which damages the biological machinery used by stem cells that turn into blood cells.
Blood production is the responsibility of the bone marrow in mammals, such as mice and humans.
By keeping that system in better shape, the researchers suggest, the chemicals and cells it pumps out should be more effective at their job.
“An aging blood system, because it’s a vector for many proteins, cytokines, and cells, has many bad consequences for the body,” says geneticist and senior author Emmanuelle Passegué of Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York. .
“A 70-year-old man with a 40-year-old blood system may have a longer lifespan, if not longer.”
As we age, the part of the bone marrow known as the stromal niche begins to deteriorate, just like the rest of our bodies. Fewer red blood cells and immune system cells are produced and the integrity of these cells is affected, which can lead to problems such as infections, anemia and blood cancer.
The researchers had already tried to correct the production of blood cells in mice through exercise and diet, without success. In that study, they focused on the stromal niche, identifying that inflammation was behind the degradation of this blood production facility – where anakinra enters.
Its application restored blood stem cells to a younger, healthier state, with effects even more pronounced when the drug was applied early in the mice’s lives.
The next step is to determine whether the drug might work in humans in the same way.
“These results indicate that these strategies hold promise for maintaining healthier blood production in the elderly,” says biochemist Carl Mitchell of Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
Today’s populations live significantly longer on average than in the past, which also means that more bodies experience emerging states of ill health. Maintaining the functions of various body systems in these later years can be a real challenge.
Young blood has already been shown to have a stimulating effect in several animal studies, but targeting blood production can have even more dramatic effects in terms of halting age-related decline.
As the drug is already approved for human use, the clinical trial rollout process should be quicker – and researchers are eager to get a closer look at exactly what is going on in the hematopoietic system.
“We know that bone tissue starts to degrade when people reach the age of 50”, says Passegué. “What happens in middle age? Why does the niche fail first?”
“Only with a deep molecular understanding will it be possible to identify approaches that can actually delay aging.”
The research was published in Nature Cell Biology.