Jamie Dananberg, MD, is chief medical officer at Unity Biotechnology. He states, “Unity Biotechnology became interested in senescent cells nearly six years ago when one of our co-founders did some work in this area. When we were looking to further our work on senescent cells and arthritis, we reached out to Dr. Elisseeff.
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Explore This IssueNovember 2017
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“We knew it was critical to examine the biology underlying OA,” states Dr. Dananberg. “This condition is recognized as inflammatory, but no one understands exactly why inflammation is involved. We found that in the culture system from the human knee cartilage if you eliminate senescent cells then the remaining chondroyctes can produce type II collagen and aggrecan (the ingredients of cartilage). In an environment where you have the interplay of roughly 100 inflammatory molecules, if you remove just one or two it will have little impact. A better idea is to eliminate the actual senescent cells so you get rid of the underlying cause of OA.
“In the Nature study published in early 2016, a culmination of our prior work, it was interesting to see that one of the significant phenotypes we identified was musculoskeletal.3 The animals involved actually had greater muscle mass, tensile strength and an absence of OA. The Nature Medicine work picked up from that and extended it to better understand OA.”
Throw Out the Dogma
“Thus far, we have only been able to offer patients symptom relief with medications, such as steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Something that has really struck us is that there is a lot of acquiescence in terms of standard of care. We are taught that bones are supposed to ache and creak—and that OA is just a part of getting old. Maybe it does not have to be like that … maybe it’s time to toss out the dogma. Our goal is to be working in the clinic with humans next year. The potential that we can intervene in the OA process is exceptional.”
Elizabeth Hofheinz, MPH, MEd, is a freelance medical editor and writer based in the Greater New Orleans area.
- Osteoarthritis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2017 Sep 9 (reviewed).
- Jeon OH, Kim C, Laberge RM, et al. Local clearance of senescent cells attenuates the development of post-traumatic osteoarthritis and creates a pro-regenerative environment. Nat Med. 2017 Jun;23(6):775–781.
- Baker, DJ, Childs BG, Durik M, et al. Naturally occurring p16(Ink4a)-positive cells shorten healthy lifespan. Nature. 2016 Feb 11;530(7589):184–189.
Note: The study was conducted by scientists at UNITY Biotechnology, Johns Hopkins University, Buck Institute for Aging Research, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, and the European Research Institute for the Biology of Aging.