How did zombie cells enter into our discussion of longevity and anti-aging science at my 70th birthday dinner?

We were 4 generations, ranging in age from 2 to 94 years, gathered around our table for a Mediterranean-inspired birthday dinner. The contrast between the exuberant vitality of our 24-month-old granddaughter, and the frailty of her 94-year-old great-grandmother reminded me that suffering the indignities of aging is not for the faint of heart.

As I reflected on the biologic processes that drive growth and development over the decades of life, and how these same biologic processes eventually turn against us, leading from vitality to frailty, I thought about how far science has come in combating aging and what science knows about extending healthspan.

Senescent zombie cells are poisoning the well.

The scientific name for cell aging is senescence. Anti-aging science has confirmed that as we age, we accumulate senescent cells. Senescent cells have lost the ability to divide and have become a sinister detriment to our health and longevity. I call these aging senescent cells “Zombie cells” because they behave like Zombies:

On Turning 70: Longevity, Anti-Aging Science, and My Quest to Kill Zombie Cells
“A Zombie is the body of a dead person given the semblance of life, but mute and will-less, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose”.

Not unlike zombies, cell senescence is a process by which a cell ages and permanently stops dividing but does not die. Senescent cells are resistant to programmed cell death. They continue to live, and as they accumulate over our lifespans they become a toxic burden to neighboring healthy cells.

These senescent cells accumulate in all our tissues throughout our lives, and are especially dense in visceral fat. They actively release harmful substances that cause inflammation and they recruit nearby, healthy cells to become senescent zombie cells. In a word, these senescent zombie cells are poisoning the well.

To stay young, kill zombie cells

The Scientific American talked about the science of senescent cells in the article titled “To stay young, kill zombie cells(1) In fact, we now know that all the diseases of aging are, in part, driven by the accumulation of senescent zombie cells in our bodies. In small numbers they play and important roll to promote wound repair, but with aging these senescent cells become the major source of inflammatory molecules that not only cause the diseases of aging, but also actively age neighboring cells. They do this through the expression of what is known as the senescence associated secretory phenotype, or SASP.

zombie cells

Aging is the accumulation of senescent cells

If we were to search for senescent zombie cells in a child, we would not find any. By the time that child reaches their 30’s and 40’s, more and more of their tissues would have accumulated zombie-like cells, beginning to drive the diseases of aging in every organ and tissue of the body. By the time they reach 60 years, the senescent associated secretary phenotype, or SASP cells, will be damaging the healthy cartilage cells in their joints. They’ll be aging the brain and inflaming the blood vessels. These SASP cells will be recruiting more and more neighboring cells to become zombie cells, in turn driving the multiple diseases of aging. 

But not everyone accumulates senescent cells at the same rate. Why is that? And with anti-aging science, can these zombie cells be eliminated?

Autophagy: the “self-digestion” longevity pathway

Autophagy (literally self-digestion) is the natural, regulated mechanism of the cell that removes unnecessary or dysfunctional cells, and recycles cellular components. It allows the orderly degradation and recycling of senescent cellular organelles and prevents senescent cells from poisoning the well. Thus, autophagy is the way that our bodies recycle old and damaged cells and cellular materials by breaking them down into their smaller components, allowing for the resynthesis of newer and healthier cellular structures.

Senolytics: the zombie assassins

Senolytics are drugs and other therapeutics that kill senescent zombie cells by activating autophagy, the natural mechanism whereby we clear senescent cells from our bodies. Senolytics activate immune cells and other pathways in an essential mechanism that is taking place every second of our lives. Our brains are are reliant on our natural senolytic pathways, and many neurodegenerative diseases are linked to defective autophagy signaling, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Up-regulating autophagy with senolytics has been shown to reverse the damage in experimental models of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

I am dedicated to empowering others to create healthy, active longevity.

The good news is that we know we can help others to achieve a longer healthspan. We know this because through metabolic laboratory tests and measurements of my epigenetic clock (a test that measures methylations on our DNA profiles), I have been able to accurately determine that my biologic age is 53 years, a full 17 years younger than my chronological age of 70.

The good news is I’ve lived a physically active lifestyle, exercised consistently, and I have eaten a health promoting diet for my entire life. I am thankful to be engaged in an intellectually challenging profession, and I am dedicated to empowering others to create healthy, active longevity. I am blessed to be married (and in love) for over 40 years now. I am an avid ocean kite surfer and I continue to find new ways to improve my health: beginning in summer 2018, I began to add a consistent yoga practice to my daily routine. 

The bad news is that if all the aches and pains I feel now are those of a 53-year-old, I’m not looking forward to what it will feel like in 17 years when I’m biologically 70 years old, let alone when I am a 94-year-old great grandfather!

My 30-year healthspan plan to eradicate zombie cells

That’s why it is my goal to extend my healthspan as far into the future as possible, to live an active, disease-free and engaged life as possible, for as long as possible. I’ve made a list of my aging goals: I will be kitesurfing the Oregon coast well into in my 90s! When I’m 100, I will have the muscle mass and strength and joint mobility to easily get down on the floor, and back up again, to play with my great-grandchildren, I will be for all intents and purposes, disease-free and healthy. To do this, I will need to continue to exercise to build and maintain muscle mass, continue to feed my body with health in mind, sleep soundly, and be using senolytics to eliminate zombie cells and prevent their accumulation.

And what’s more, I know I can achieve this because I have already implemented my evidence-based anti-aging, longevity protocol and am feeling the benefits, and documenting the results with clinical laboratory tests. I wrote my 30-year longevity plan to specifically outline what I need to do today, and in the future, to remain physically mobile, mentally agile and metabolically disease free. My plan requires my commitment to dietary, metabolic, hormonal, exercise, and medication protocols that repair my epigenetic clock, activate my longevity phenotype and systematically target and eliminate senescent zombie cells from my body. 


Welcome to the Oregon Longevity Project

The foundation of the Oregon Longevity Project is a individualized prescription of moderate exercise, a healthy plant-rich diet, and disciplined sleep habits. These essential habits are coupled with a regimen of anti-aging compounds called senolytics, mTOR inhibitors, and SIRT1 activators, all compounds that target and eliminate the senescent cells from our bodies, up regulate autophagy, activate our longevity genes, and repair our DNA.

With a clear plan, all these measures are relatively easy to implement. Your Oregon Longevity Project is your integrated roadmap that charts your course to a vital healthspan, and reverses the underlying mechanisms of aging.

Join the Oregon Longevity Project

Over the next 12-months, we will be recruiting other motivated patients to join with me in turning back the epigenetic clock through evidence driven metabolic, dietary, and movement-based protocols. The doctors at Oregon Regenerative Medicine have the knowledge, the experience, and the will to achieve these goals. And because we are an evidence-driven team, we will be gathering the clinical data and documenting each patient’s progress. If you are 40 or older, you may be eligible to join the Oregon Longevity Project.


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