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Dr. Hemali Phatnani Awarded NIH Grant to Build 3D Atlas To Map “Senescent” Cells and Probe Their Role in Human Aging and Disease

New York, NY  ·  October 20, 2021

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has selected Hemali Phatnani, PhD, Core Faculty Member and Director, Center for Genomics of Neurodegenerative Disease, New York Genome Center (NYGC), as a grantee in its Cellular Senescence Network (SenNet) program. Dr. Phatnani also holds a joint appointment as Assistant Professor of Neurological Sciences in the Department of Neurology, Division of Neuromuscular Medicine, at Columbia University.

SenNet is a trans-NIH program funded by the NIH Common Fund and overseen in collaboration with the National Institute on Aging and National Cancer Institute to study a rare but important type of cells called “senescent” cells that are involved in normal biological processes and chronic diseases of aging such as cancer and neurodegeneration.

Senescent cells are a small number of once-dividing cells that cease to divide but don’t die off when they should. Instead, they remain active and may release a large number of molecules, many of which can have effects on nearby cells. These effects are both positive and negative in human biology. Cellular senescence can be a defense mechanism, like when it stops cancerous cells from multiplying, and may also be helpful by aiding wound repair and development of human embryos. However, researchers have also shown that senescent cells release chemicals that can trigger inflammation and may contribute to many chronic diseases in older adults, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, lung disease, and kidney disease.

Dr. Phatnani’s five-year grant [award #U54AG076040] will establish the Columbia University Senescence Tissue Mapping Center (CUSTMAP). CUSTMAP is a collaborative effort that spans multiple institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, and builds upon long-standing collaborations between Columbia University, New York University, the Flatiron Institute, the University of Edinburgh, and the New York Genome Center. Through CUSTMAP, this partnership will build A Multi-scale Atlas of Senescence in Diverse Tissue Types.

In this project, the multi-institutional research team will generate 3D maps of senescent cells in tissues with vulnerability to age-related degenerative processes: the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the skin. They will use state-of-the-art spatial genomics technologies and leverage established experimental workflows and analytical pipelines to systematically generate single-cell resolution, multi-modal maps of aging-associated senescence signatures and their environment. The team’s work will allow for unprecedented genome-wide molecular characterization at single-cell resolution to create a multi-scale atlas of senescence in diverse tissue types across the adult human lifespan.

Silas Maniatis, PhD, Lead Scientist, Spatial Transcriptomics and Engineering, NYGC Technology Innovation Lab, is a subawardee for the project. Dr. Maniatis, who previously worked as a scientist in the Phatnani Lab at the NYGC, is a member of the global research team led by Dr. Phatnani that developed a multidimensional gene expression atlas offering unprecedented detail into ALS disease progression. Dr. Phatnani is senior author and Dr. Maniatis is co-first author on the team’s report on that atlas published in Science in 2019.

The SenNet program will provide data and resources to the public that would otherwise be difficult to achieve through individual efforts, accelerating the ability of biomedical researchers to identify biomarkers and develop therapeutics that target cellular senescence and improve human health.

Read the NIH announcement about the SenNet program and awards: NIH launches program to map a rare type of non-dividing cells implicated in human health and disease.

Read more news about the Center for Genomics of Neurodegenerative Disease – Phatnani Lab.

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