The National Institute of Health (NIH) Common Fund’s Cellular Senescence Network (SenNet) program awarded $125 million among 16 university teams to study non-replicating and aging-related “senescent” cells.
The NIH is out to get at the root of senescence — a phenomenon causally linked to aging and age-related diseases in which cells stop dividing. And to do so, the NIH Common Fund has established the Cellular Senescence Network (SenNet) Program to comprehensively identify and characterize the differences in senescent cells across the body, various states of human health, and lifespan. SenNet will provide publicly accessible atlases of senescent cells, their differences, and the molecules they secrete, using data collected from multiple human and model organism tissues.
“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, M.D., director of the National Institute on Aging, part of NIH.
“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.”
To identify and characterize these rare cells, SenNet will develop innovative tools and technologies that build upon previous advances in single-cell analysis, such as those from the Common Fund’s Human Biomolecular Atlas Program and Single Cell Analysis Program. Lastly, SenNet aims to unite cellular senescence researchers by developing standard terms and classifications for senescent cells.
Senescent cells promote chronic low-level inflammation by secreting a collection of inflammatory and other molecules known as the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). The SASP is of great interest to researchers studying aging biology because it can profoundly affect tissue structure and function. But the field is challenged by a lack of standard terms and classifications for senescent cells.
“The trans-NIH approach of the SenNet program will provide tools and technologies capable of studying senescent cells in all their biological roles,” said James M. Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, which oversees the Common Fund.
“SenNet researchers will capitalize on recent advances in single-cell analysis, including those from the Common Fund’s Human Biomolecular Atlas Program and Single Cell Analysis Program, to create this foundational resource for the broader biomedical research community.”
the NIH is funding $125 million to 16 grants over five years, pending available funds:
· Eight awards for the creation of SenNet Tissue Mapping Centers
· Seven awards for Technology Development and Application Projects
· One award for a Consortium Organization and Data Coordinating Center (CODCC)
The CODCC will act as a library for the consortium, developing something like the Dewey Decimal System to annotate and organize the vast collection of maps produced by the other teams. Eventually, the atlas of cellular senescence will be published online in an open-source repository so that other researchers can explore these data to make discoveries about senescent cells and how they contribute to human health.
“I think that the science of senescent cells is tremendously exciting because of their potential impact on a whole variety of diseases,” said Jonathan Silverstein, M.D., professor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics at Pitt and chief research informatics officer at Pitt and UPMC’s Institute for Precision Medicine.
“By doing the basic science of collecting all of this information and presenting it through SenNet, there is incredible potential to learn more about the role these cells play in disease and develop pharmaceuticals that target them.”
The awards include:
Buck Institute professor Judith Campisi, Ph.D., commented, “We are thrilled that the NIH is investing in studying cellular senescence in humans. We are very excited to join SenNet and are eager to add to the knowledge base, which will be available to researchers around the world,” said Campisi, who is recognized as a pioneer in the field. “We also look forward to interacting with the other SenNet awardees as we all work toward the same goal of accelerating the development of therapeutics to improve human health. This is a great time to be doing research on aging, and collaboration will be the key to the project’s success.”