Pacific northwest bioMedical Innovation Co-Laboratory (PMedIC)

PMedIC Team Receives NIH Grant to Advance Knowledge of Senescent Cells

August 23, 2022 | Carolyn Kim

RICHLAND, Wash.—As humans age, some cells in the body that previously grew and replaced old ones become damaged and lose the ability to multiply—entering an enduring state called senescence. When this occurs, cells can secrete signaling molecules that affect organs, which scientists have linked to diseases such as cancer and diabetes. While we understand the negative impact of senescent cells, there is not enough information to create effective medicine to eliminate them. A team of researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) is out to change that.

"Our project aims to use mass spectrometry to decode the protein compositions of the senescent cells, as well as their signaling molecules. We will develop laser-based technology to isolate single senescent cells and perform protein measurements," explained Ying Zhu, a PNNL senior research scientist. "This information will not only allow scientists to better understand how these cells affect human health, but also facilitate the drug discovery process to eliminate the senescent cells or neutralize the released molecules before they cause diseases."

The National Health Institute (NIH) just announced funding for this project, which is the result of an ongoing connection between OHSU and PNNL. Four years ago, the institutions launched a collaboration now known as the Pacific Northwest Biomedical Innovation Co-Laboratory, or PMedIC, where scientists and physicians collaborate to bring basic science and clinical experience together to explore disease and develop innovative therapies.

Zhu, who provides expertise in single-cell proteomics, will be joined by Megan Ruhland, an assistant professor at OHSU who is specialized in senescence and immunology, and Ljiljana Paša-Tolić, a PNNL scientist with expertise in high-resolution mass spectrometry and proteomics. The team will conduct this research using mass spectrometry at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), a DOE Office of Science user facility located at PNNL. With support from this grant, the team plans to develop a highly sophisticated tool to allow scientists to study protein compositions in human organs in both physiological and pathological contexts. Then, the team plans to use the tool to decode the phenotypes of the senescent cells to understand how they affect human health.

About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE's Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

About OHSU

OHSU is Oregon's academic health center and is nationally distinguished as a research university dedicated solely to advancing health sciences. This singular purpose allows us to focus on discoveries that prevent and cure disease, on education that prepares physicians, dentists, nurses and other health professionals for the evolving health care environment, and on patient care that incorporates the latest advances. Based in Portland, we are one of Oregon's largest employers, operate the top-ranked adult and children's hospitals in the state, and secure competitive research funding of more than $586 million. As a public organization, we also provide services for the most vulnerable Oregonians and outreach to improve health in communities across the state.