Therapies may soon include a new process to delay aging and age-related diseases after scientists passed the first human trial of a technique that uses drugs meant to kill old, toxic cells in the human body. 

The study, first reported by MIT Technology Review, explored the use of “senolytics,” a process that combines drugs to clear aged and damaged cells. In their latest experiment, researchers used a drug made to fight leukemia and another supplement called quercetin. 

The team tested the senolytic drugs between 2016 and 2018 with 14 patients suffering from a lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The potential anti-aging therapy targeted damaged or senescent cells that the team believed to have a contribution to human aging. 

“It is thought that these cells and the substances they produce are involved in the process of aging,” said Nicolas Musi, member of the team and directs the Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. “The idea is that removing these cells may be beneficial to promote healthy aging and also to prevent diseases of aging,” he added.

The tests in clinics in Texas and at Wake Forest University showed that the senolytic drugs appeared effective to improve patients’ conditions. They were mainly able to walk farther three weeks after the tests started, and none of them suffered serious side effects from the drugs, the scientists said. 

James Kirkland, a Mayo Clinic professor who helped lead the trial, said the success in the first human trial allows the team to begin larger tests.

Musi said their team already started another trial in 15 more lung patients and a separate group of 20 patients with chronic kidney disease. 

Kirkland noted they hope to test the potential anti-aging therapy with healthy people in the future. “If we see effectiveness signals and don’t encounter really bad side effects, we’ll try to get to people with less and less life-threatening conditions,” he said.