Cellular Senescence Program

Initiatives

The Cellular Senescence Program within the Kogod Center on Aging researches the basic biology of aging. Learning more about what drives the body to age may ultimately lead to ways to prevent or reverse conditions associated with aging and to improvements in health span — the healthy, productive time in life.

One of the most significant biological processes behind aging is cellular senescence. To maintain health, most cells in the body continually divide to replace old and damaged tissue. But eventually cells age and stop dividing.

The cells that have stopped the normal biological process of dividing are called senescent cells. Senescent cells secrete inflammatory proteins that destroy or impair the function of healthy cells around them. This contributes to organ dysfunction and the development of age-related disorders throughout the body, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, dementia, mobility disorders and metabolic diseases.

Research on animal models in the Kogod Center on Aging showed that removing senescent cells later in life could actually slow the progression of age-related disorders. While this may not actually increase life span, it could increase health span.

Focus areas

The Cellular Senescence Program focuses its research efforts on:

  • Eliminating dysfunctional senescent cells
  • Suppressing the release of toxic factors that are secreted by senescent cells
  • Understanding and interfering with the pathways that drive aging

This research will help the program gain better understanding of the basic biology of aging and identify the molecules and pathways that drive cellular senescence and aging. This may then ultimately lead to new ways to modulate these senescent cells, thus delaying or reverting diseases and disabilities associated with aging in people.

Mayo Clinic is a leader in the field of senescent cell research. In what The New York Times called "a delicate feat of genetic engineering," Kogod Center on Aging scientists engineered laboratory mice with senescent cells and then evaluated the impact on the health span of the mice when a drug was used to systematically eliminate the senescent cells.

The researchers found that elimination of senescent cells delayed the onset of age-related disorders in the mice. The journal Science chose this discovery as a "breakthrough of the year" for 2011.

The Cellular Senescence Program is translating knowledge about these mechanisms into practical, clinical interventions that could push the onset of cancer, cardiovascular disease, strokes, dementias, mobility disorders, metabolic diseases and the many other conditions that become increasingly common with aging, out toward the end of the life span. The findings may lead to a paradigm shift in how chronic diseases and disabilities are prevented.

Program laboratories

Several laboratories within the Cellular Senescence Program engage in aging-related research that focuses on the role of senescent cells in aging-related diseases and disorders.

Read more about the Paul F. Glenn Laboratories for Senescence Research at Mayo Clinic.

Program leadership

Director: Jan van Deursen, Ph.D.

Watch a video about the Cellular Senescence Program.

Transcript

Jan van Deursen, Ph.D.

What I'm interested in is the years that we have here, that we can spend those free of major debilitating diseases, so that we can enjoy this time maximally.

The breakthrough discovery was really making the link between the type of cells that we accumulate in our bodies when we age, and the onset of age-related pathologies, diseases or aging itself.

Senescent cells were known for a while; it wasn't known that they were linked to aging itself, although they were suspect. What we did is we removed these cells from organs and tissues and found that the health span greatly improved.

The big potential here is that if you are able to safely remove senescent cells, that you may have a positive impact on prevention altogether of age-related diseases.