Boyfriend (from now on will be referred to as The Scientist) and I talk at dinner about science, senescence and SASP (yes, we talk about stuff like this at dinner, we be nerdin’).

The Scientist: “Did you know that studies have found chemotherapy leads to an increase in senescent cells?”
Me: “Ah, yes, senescent cells – SASP!”
The Scientist: “SASP! Yeah! Hmm… what’s that again?”

SASP. Senescence-associated secretory phenotype.

Organs, tissues and cells

Our human body is made up of organs and tissues. These are made up of cells. For example, the liver is made up of liver cells, the kidneys are made up of kidney cells and so on.

Cells and life cycle

Normally, these cells have a life cycle. A cell can grow, perform its function and divide. If it dies, it gets cleaned up by the body through a very clean process called apoptosis. However, a cell can also sort of fall asleep – hence, senescence. It’s no longer performing its normal function, but it doesn’t get cleaned up either.

Benefits of senescence

Senescence is actually believed to be a protective mechanism. Let’s say you have a cell that is starting to grow in weird ways or maybe even behave like cancer. The cell stops itself by going into sleepy mode (more scientifically known as senescence) – rendering it inactive – or so we thought.

Downsides of senescence

These sleeping, senescent cells, stay in the organs and although they are no longer performing their normal function, they still do something. They start oozing (secreting) all sorts of inflammatory chemicals. This is their secretory phenotype (if genotype are your genes, phenotype is how you look and what you do).

The stuff that gets secreted contains various inflammatory chemicals – provoking surrounding healthy cells to potentially become up to no good.

Senescence, SASP and disease

Senescent cells accumulate with internal & external damage, and with age. Studies have found that senescent cells also accumulate after chemotherapy – which is not very strange considering the aggressive nature of this therapy on cells. This increased accumulation of senescent cells and SASP might explain why some people who have undergone chemotherapy develop age-related diseases relatively early in their life.

Chances for prevention?

Knowing that people who at some point received chemotherapy might have increased production of SASP makes me wonder – should these people be advised to live a healthy lifestyle in order to compensate for the increased SASP accumulation, and to help prevent, as much as possible, the production of too much SASP too soon? Something to think about.

Peace & take care,