Posted on Nov 20, 2019, 1 p.m.
Since discovery about 60 years ago, great progress has been made in understanding characteristics and function of senescent cells, but progress has been limited by the absence of specific biomarkers.
A new report explores the consensus from the International Cell Senescence Association which defines and discusses key cellular and molecular features of senescence, as well as provides recommendation on how to use them as biomarkers.
Our organism’s physiological functions deteriorate along with the deterioration in our physical appearance with age, making aging a serious risk factor for various diseases and conditions including but not limited to heart diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, diabetes, and cancer.
Cellular senescence is a natural process that results from cells only being able to divide a limited number of times, after which they become senescent old cells that can no longer divide. The division acts as a brake on old damaged cells from becoming cancerous, however, sometimes these cells do not die off to be cleared and accumulate which can cause damage to other cells and trigger aging and age related diseases.
Targeting senescence has emerged as being an appealing intervention for the management of aging and the related disorders since the establishment of strong links between them and organismal aging; these approaches fall under the senotherapy umbrella. Senotherapy requires senescence biomarkers, without these the precise detection of senescent cells and assessment of senotherapy efficacy is not possible, thus this is where the ICSA comes into play.
The National and Kapodistrian University of Athen’s researchers recently described a consensus from the ICSA which provides a guide of molecular and cellular characteristics of senescence as well as recommendations on how to use them as biomarkers. Several key molecular flags of senescent cells are described ranging from molecules involved in cells arrest, types of DNA damage, cell death, metabolism, to the regulation of gene expression, and secreted molecules involved in communication which is collectively term as senescent associated secretory phenotype components.
SeneQuest was also developed by the researchers which is a free resource tool which can be used to help identify genes linked to senescence, and they also developed an algorithm that can accurately detect and quantify senescence in both lab cells and in living organisms.
This is a positive step forward in gaining a better understanding of the characteristics and functions of senescent cells and their biomarkers to fight aging. But it also leaves open questions that need to be addressed and limitations to overcome such as how specific, robust, and accurate are these biomarkers in detecting senescence? What is their prognostic and predictive therapeutic value for senotherapy interventions already being investigated in clinical trials? How does one manage the high heterogeneity of senescent associated features? And, how feasible is it to detect these cells in tissues and organs?
The space of senotherapy is evolving quickly, it is hard to think of anyone who would not be excited to see the implications of the identification of senescence biomarkers in advancing the field even further, and the possibility of discoveries to come.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.