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NIH SenNet Program to Map Rare Senescent Cells Implicated in Human Health

NEW YORK – The National Institutes of Health Common Fund launched the Cellular Senescence Network (SenNet) program, aimed at comprehensively identifying and characterizing the differences in senescent cells across different parts of the body, physiological states, and lifespan, the agency announced on Wednesday.

The NIH is funding 16 grants with a total of $125 million over five years to improve understanding of these rare and diverse cells. The agency anticipates that a deeper understanding of them will contribute to therapies that enhance their beneficial effects while suppressing their inflammatory and tissue-damaging effects.

Senescent cells are those that have stopped dividing. They accumulate over time and play various health-related roles, including facilitating wound repair and preventing tumor growth in some cancers. They can also contribute to chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and neurodegeneration, however.

Eight grants currently support the creation of SenNet Tissue Mapping Centers, wherein researchers will identify human senescent cell biomarkers and construct high-resolution, detailed maps charting cellular senescence across both lifespan and different physiological states.

Seven grants support Technology Development and Application Projects aimed at advancing promising tools, techniques, and methods for SenNet to use in its research.

Finally, one grant supports Consortium Organization and Data Coordinating Center (CODCC), an organizational hub that will collect, store, and curate SenNet's data, tools, and models.

All projects will contribute to a publicly accessible and searchable Atlas of Cellular Senescence.

Although the network primarily intends to map human senescent cells, studies in mice will enable researchers to interrogate environmental factors, preventative strategies, and preclinical issues related to senescence, all of which help scientists tease out the differences and similarities between mouse and human cells. The program will eventually incorporate the mapping of mouse 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," James Anderson, director of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, which oversees the Common Fund, said in a statement. "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."