Cells Have a “Recycling System” — and Scientists Are Discovering How It Works


The finding that cells have a "recycling system" potentially has big implications for combating aging and age-related diseases. Photo: Boris SV/Getty Images

Longevity may be the most important trend we’ve ever experienced. It’s driven by — and in turn, it affects — everything from health to housing, money to technology, lifestyle to social policy. There’s so much to be aware of — and it’s just getting started! Now you can keep up with all the latest developments in this weekly column.


As reported by the invaluable “Longevity Insider” newsletter, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have identified and described a pathway by which cells promote longevity by recycling cellular trash.

The focal point is the repair of damaged lysosomes. Lysosomes are structures that contain powerful enzymes that break down and clear out molecular waste. These are then walled off, in effect, and prevented from damaging other parts of the cell. The walling off is achieved by a membrane that, in the words of the article, “acts like chain link security fencing around a hazardous waste facility.” Although breaks can occur in the fence, “a healthy cell quickly repairs the damage.”

The “recycling process” by the lysosomes keeps cells healthy and biologically young. With aging, however, there comes a decline in the body’s ability to repair damage to the lysosomes. But how that damage is repaired normally — i.e., in a more youthful body — was not a well understood process in the first place. The elements were known, but what was the exact process, the interaction of the components? If that process could be recognized and understood, it could lead to significant new therapies for age-related diseases.

The money quote, from co-author Dr. Toren Finkel, director of the Aging Institute and distinguished professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine:

“I believe these findings are going to have many implications for normal aging and for age-related diseases.”

The article contains a detailed description of the research and what it learned about how the body repairs lysosomes — a much better description than I could offer by summarizing or paraphrasing.

Frankly, I had no awareness of lysosomes before I read this, so it’s yet another horizon that has been opened up for me. I keep saying, ‘Here’s another one I will keep my eye on’ — and the hits just keeping on coming!

David Cravit is a Vice-President at ZoomerMedia, and Chief Membership Officer of CARP. He is also the author of two books on the “reinvention” of aging. You can check out some of his other writing here.


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