Medical School and the College of Biological Sciences have received $8.5M to expand on their work studying non-dividing cells that increase with age

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (10/27/2021) —The University of Minnesota is a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) program to study a rare type of cells, called “senescent” cells, that play both positive and negative roles in biological processes. 

As 1 of 16 sites in the NIH Common Fund’s Cellular Senescence Network (SenNet) program, U of M researchers — spanning 10 departments — will study how senescent cells accumulate and damage or heal neighboring tissue during normal human aging. 

“This is an incredibly exciting opportunity — led by the University — to deeply characterize, identify and learn how to measure senescent cells,” said the U of M site’s lead investigator, Laura Niedernhofer, MD, PhD, a professor in the Medical School and College of Biological Sciences, and director of the Institute of the Biology of Aging and Metabolism — one of four Medical Discovery Teams at U of M Medical School sponsored by the state.

“We know that senescent cells play a causal role in most diseases of old age, including cancer and Alzheimer’s, and to be therapeutically targetable to attenuate disease,” Niedernhofer said. 

SenNet will leverage recent advances in studying individual cells, or single-cell analysis, to comprehensively identify and characterize the differences in senescent cells across the body, across various states of human health and across the lifespan.

As a SenNet Tissue Mapping Center, U of M researchers were awarded $8.5 million over five years to:

  • identify biomarkers of senescent cells in humans;

  • construct high-resolution, detailed maps of cellular senescence across the human lifespan and physiological states; and

  • work together with other centers to create a publicly accessible and searchable Human Atlas of Cellular Senescence.

​​“The number of senescent cells in a person’s body increases with age, which may reflect both an increase in the generation of these cells and a decreased ability of the aging immune system to regulate or eliminate these cells. This age-related accumulation of senescent cells leads to production of inflammatory molecules and corruption of healthy cells,” said Richard J. Hodes, MD, director of the National Institute on Aging.“This can affect a person’s ability to withstand stress or illness, recuperate from injuries and maintain normal brain function. The aim of NIH’s strengthened focus on this field of science is to one day conquer these and other challenges.”

University of Minnesota award number is U54-AG076041. The SenNet program is a trans-NIH effort managed collaboratively by staff from the NIH Common Fund, the National Institute on Aging and the National Cancer Institute.


To learn more about cellular senescence and the outstanding research questions around it, read thisFeatured Research article from the National Institute on Aging.

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