U of M researchers receive grant to map senescent cells in preclinical studies and human tissues

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. This sets the stage for future projects that we believe will be more translational."

Dr. David Bernlohr, PhD, Professor, University of Minnesota Medical School

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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