The SENESGOLD project received a 2020 BIST Ignite Grant in June 2021.
Senescent cells are damaged cells that have stopped their replication mechanism and are supposed to be eliminated by our immune system. However, this does not always happen, leading to a pathological accumulation of senescent cells. This is linked to age-related diseases, as well as to the side effects of very aggressive treatments like chemotherapy. Eliminating these senescent cells is a therapeutic objective to treat these diseases, and is the goal of the SENESGOLD project, co-led by Marc Montesinos and José Alberto López, postdoctoral researchers at ICIQ and IRB Barcelona, respectively.
“The project combines two very novel research areas: research in the biology of senescent cells, and the catalysis of drugs within the cells themselves. The challenge of this project is to carry out this catalysis inside the specific cells we want,” explains José Alberto López. To do this, the project uses the beta-galactosidase enzyme, which is most active in senescent cells, as a marker. This enzyme will activate small molecules containing gold atoms inside the cells, “which in several recent studies has been shown to activate bonds with organic compounds that other metallic compounds cannot“, says Marc Montesinos, with the aim of developing a catalytic drug production system (prodrug) that has the capacity to eliminate senescent cells “in vivo”.