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Scientists have started to test whether natural killer, or NK, cells can be trained to go after hard-to-cure blood cancers in human patients. But making these sentinels of the innate immune system a potential boon to human health spans might be simpler: Rather than needing to be genetically engineered or primed with synthetic antibodies, they just need to be turned on.

In mice, researchers reported on Monday in the journal Med, activating NKT cells can eliminate the senescent cells partly responsible for many diseases of aging. If the results hold up, they could offer a promising alternative to “senolytics” — experimental drugs that destroy these zombified cells that pile up and pollute your tissues as you get older. Although dozens of such drugs have postponed or even reversed diseases of aging in mouse experiments, clinical trials have thus far underwhelmed.

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