U of M researchers awarded $19.3 million in NIH grants to map senescent cells

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MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (09/16/2022)Researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School and the Institute on the Biology of Aging and Metabolism were awarded a total of $19.3 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health Common Fund to map senescent cells in preclinical studies and human tissues as part of the SenNet Consortium. These multidisciplinary grants involve nearly 60 investigators from the U of M Medical School, Northwestern University and Mayo Clinic.

Senescent cells play a causal role in aging and numerous age-related diseases, but it can also contribute to beneficial biology like wound healing. The collective goal of SenNet is to develop a 4D atlas of human senescent cells. The U of M and Mayo Clinic are at the forefront of developing senolytic drugs that selectively clear senescent cells. The SenNet project will dramatically advance knowledge of how best to use senolytics to improve human health. 

David Bernlohr, PhD, a professor at the Medical School, will lead the newest project to establish a Tissue Mapping Center and chart the process of senescence during a normal aging process in preclinical studies. The project was awarded a four-year grant worth $10.8 million. U of M researchers will focus on senescent cells in adipose, liver and brain tissues. 

“This project is going to provide us a lot of foundational, fundamental information that will enable other kinds of investigations that will have direct impacts on the Minnesota population,” Dr. Bernlohr said. “This sets the stage for future projects that we believe will be more translational.”

A five-year, $8.5 million companion grant will take a similar approach to prove cells with particular characteristics are senescent in human tissues. Laura Niedernhofer, MD, PhD, director of the Institute on the Biology of Aging and Metabolism and a professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics at the U of M Medical School, will lead this project.

“It’s an incredibly exciting opportunity and a massive investment by NIH to understand senescent cell biology,” said Dr. Niedernhofer. “We will be gaining tremendous amounts of information in parallel with Dr. Bernlohr’s research team.”

Researchers are currently building the tools and workflows to find and characterize senescent cells as these projects get underway. 

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Project numbers 1U54AG079754-01 and 5U54AG076041-02.

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About the University of Minnesota Medical School
The University of Minnesota Medical School is at the forefront of learning and discovery, transforming medical care and educating the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and faculty produce high-impact biomedical research and advance the practice of medicine. We acknowledge that the U of M Medical School, both the Twin Cities campus and Duluth campus, is located on traditional, ancestral and contemporary lands of the Dakota and the Ojibwe, and scores of other Indigenous people, and we affirm our commitment to tribal communities and their sovereignty as we seek to improve and strengthen our relations with tribal nations. For more information about the U of M Medical School, please visit med.umn.edu

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