The research contribution and interests of Yi Zhu, Ph.D., include investigating the biological function of cellular senescence under various kinds of disease conditions, particularly age-related diseases, and neurological disorders.
Senescent cells accumulate in the body with age and the onset of many diseases. Accumulation of these cells is deleterious and contributes to the development of age-related dysfunction. The goal of Dr. Zhu's research is to unravel the mechanisms of senescent cell involvement in these diseases and develop senolytic drugs to precisely target senescent cells. In 2015, Dr. Zhu discovered the first generation of senolytics, which have been validated in preclinical studies and independent research laboratories.
- Delineating biological roles of diverse types of senescent cells. By incorporating a single-cell proteomics approach with the conventional approach in preclinical animal models, Dr. Zhu investigates the role of senescent cells in the life span and health span. She does this by mapping various types of senescent cells in multiple tissues, as well as correlating aging phenotypes in aged animals treated with or without senolytics. This study provides mechanistic insight into what drives age-related functional decline and how to target it therapeutically.
- Investigating peripheral senescent cells and cognition. Existing evidence demonstrates that a high burden of senescent cells in peripheral tissues plays a possible causal role in the pathogenesis of multiple age-related chronic diseases. This is the leading predictive factor for developing cognitive deficits in later life. Dr. Zhu is investigating how peripheral senescent cells affect brain aging and predispose the brain to cognitive impairment.
- Developing novel senolytics targeting senescent glial cells. More recently, the detrimental effects of senescent glial cells in various kinds of neurological disorders have attracted significant interest. However, no senolytic available effectively targets senescent glial cells. Dr. Zhu is investigating a novel target for pharmacological interventions aimed at the amelioration of age-related neurodegeneration.
Significance to patient care
Dr. Zhu's research is critical to patient care, as it offers novel approaches to treat, prevent, delay, or attenuate age-related neurodegenerative and other senescence-associated neurological disorders. She aims to develop novel technologies to detect and quantitate senescence, leading to valuable assays for clinical trials and, eventually, treating patients with senolytics.