SINERGIA Grant awarded Ticino scientists and clinicians for cellular senescence study

Cellular senescence in different tissues of the human organism is one of the causes of aging and related diseases, such as cancer, kidney, heart, and muscle failure. Preventing the formation of these cells or selectively eliminating them could therefore be the key weapon against several diseases. This is the intuition of a multidisciplinary group involving scientists and clinicians in Ticino and Switzerland, leading them to receive an important grant from the Swiss National Fund to pursue research on the molecular mechanisms underlying cellular senescence and to develop potential clinical applications of new molecules capable of inhibiting or eliminating these cells.

Cells in our bodies, when subjected to high stress, have two choices: die or remain suspended between life and death, a condition known as cellular senescence. The accumulation of senescent cells in various tissues of the human body is one of the causes of aging and related diseases such as cancer, kidney, heart, muscle damage. Preventing the formation of these cells or selectively eliminating them could therefore be the winning weapon against several diseases.

"In recent years, we have realised that senescent cells are at the basis of several aging-related diseases, such as cancer", explains Prof. Andrea Alimonti , group leader at the Institute of Oncology Research (IOR, affiliated to USI) and Full professor at the USI Faculty of Biomedical Sciences. "Traditional chemotherapies, for example, induce the accumulation of senescent cells in the tumour but also in healthy tissues where they serve as a source of chronic inflammation. If these cells are not eliminated they can be the basis of relapse as well as increase organ toxicity (e.g. heart, kidney). Today we have drugs that, when associated with chemotherapy, can block or eliminate these cells and we are convinced that these drugs can find different applications in patients treated with chemotherapy".

This is in fact the intuition of a multidisciplinary group of scientists and clinicians coordinated by Prof. Alimonti, and including Dr. Lucio Barile (Cardiocentro Ticino), Dr. Pietro CippÓ (EOC) and Prof. J. Auwerx of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). The group, to which the Swiss National Science Foundation has awarded a research grant of more than 3 million francs ( SINERGIA Grant ), will seek to identify the molecular mechanisms underlying cellular senescence in different organs and to develop potential clinical applications of new molecules capable of inhibiting or eliminating these cells, thanks to the contribution of the translational research groups of the EOC.

"This ’synergy’ is very appropriate for the EOC, where researchers can liaise every day with clinicians and thus enable the translation of basic research towards an actual application, ultimately benefitting patients", says Dr. Lucio Barile , group leader at Cardiocentro Ticino and lecturer at the USI Faculty of Biomedical Sciences.

The ultimate goal is to develop of a drug capable of preventing or treating diseases such as cancer, kidney failure or heart failure during the three years of the project. Some of these molecules of natural origin are already available to researchers in Ticino thanks to the collaboration with the Swiss pharmaceutical company IBSA based in Lugano and EPFL in Lausanne.


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