IRB Barcelona Awarded Grant to Develop Senolytic Medications for Fibrotic Diseases

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by Forest Ray PhD |

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The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) Barcelona a €150,000 ($176,000) Proof of Concept grant to develop new medications to treat fibrotic diseases such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

The grant, which provides for 18 months of funding, also covers the development of new medications for chronic kidney disease.

The research team, led by Manuel Serrano, PhD, head of the cellular plasticity and disease lab at IRB Barcelona, will focus on senescent cells.

Senescent cells are those that no longer divide or proliferate, and they have been shown to cause persistent inflammation that can lead to age-related diseases. Causes of senescence include damage, stress, and telomere shortening.

Studies done in animals have shown that selectively removing senescent cells has some therapeutic effects on IPF, chronic kidney disease, and aging.

Serrano plans to search for senolytics, or molecules that can specifically kill senescent cells while leaving neighboring healthy cells intact.

“Senescent cells are damaged cells which remain in the organism and lead to the functional deterioration of tissue and organs,” said Serrano in an institute press release. “Senolytics allow us to selectively eliminate these cells when the immune system is unable to do so, thus preventing the appearance of aging-related diseases.”

Senolytic compounds have attracted some interest based on their potential to treat IPF and other fibrotic conditions. In fact, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently mentioned senolytics as one of the “Top 10 breakthrough technologies” for 2020 in its MIT Technology Review.

Pioneered by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, senolytics have previously shown some positive signs in improving physical function and reducing signs of fibrosis in mice.

Degenerative diseases such as fibrosis cause up to 45% of deaths among those 65 and older. With some estimates calculating that approximately 17% of the global population will be over that age by 2050, the IRB Barcelona project is set to address a growing clinical need.

IRB Barcelona’s senolytics program — called SENFIB project — will focus on targets previously discovered by Marta Kovatcheva, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher and member of the research team.

“It is a very interesting example of how basic research can open the doors to clinical translation,” Kovatcheva said. “The ERC’s Proof of Concept project allows us to make the leap and engage with the concerns of society.”

The IRB Barcelona team is also receiving funding from La Caixa Foundation.

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