$7.5 million to fund senescent cell research for age-related disease

Washington University will receive $7.5 million from the NIH to study senescent cells for treatments against age-related diseases.

Older woman talking to doctor

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, US, is joining the US National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) new research network focused on the study of senescent cells to understand the diseases of ageing, including cancer and neurodegeneration. The goal is to help researchers develop novel therapies that target cellular senescence to prevent or treat such diseases and improve human health. Washington University will receive $7.5 million over five years to support the research.

The Cellular Senescence Network (SenNet) is supported by the NIH Common Fund and overseen by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The NIH will provide a total of about $125 million to 16 research centres over five years, pending available funds. 

Washington University School of Medicine will serve as one of eight tissue-mapping centres. With a focus on bone marrow and liver, Washington University researchers will map the location and function of senescent cells in many samples of these specific tissues. Such research could shed light on the development of cancers of the blood and liver as well as metabolic disorders such as fatty liver disease.

“We are excited and proud to be a part of this national effort to understand cellular senescence,” stated principal investigator Dr Li Ding. “These cells are quite mysterious. We do not have good ways of detecting senescent cells in the body. They have lost their ability to divide and some think that they are more fragile than normal cells.

“They also secrete a characteristic set of proteins as part of the ‘senescence associated secretory phenotype.’ Senescent cells are not cancerous, but they can lead to inflammation that sets the stage for cancer to develop along with other diseases that we associate with ageing. Our group will map out senescent cells in bone marrow and liver samples in an effort to understand their spatial distribution and molecular signature in different tissue environments and at different ages,” Ding continued.

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“The study of senescent cells holds great promise in helping to assess the role of these cells in the development of age-related disease, including cancer,” added Dr Norman Sharpless, director of the NIH’s National Cancer Institute. “Cancer is certainly one of the most prevalent chronic age-related diseases. We look forward to the potential translational benefits of this research in answering some of the most challenging questions about ageing and cancer. This initiative will advance our work in the cancer research field overall.”