Researchers in Europe published results in Cancer Discovery in November 2022 that indicate promising responses to vaccination with senescent cells. The researchers suggest that these cells “combine several features that render them highly efficient in activating dendritic cells (DCs) and antigen-specific CD8 T cells”. Furthermore, the immune response to this study is “superior to the gold standard of immunogenic cell death”.  


The Barcelona Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) states that “senescence is a state of latency reached by damaged or aged cells in which they do not reproduce”. They “emit information signals into their environment”, alerting the immune system to their presence, which stimulates an “inflammatory response and tissue regeneration”.  

The team used these cells because of these useful characteristics. As they are living, they stimulate the immune system for longer, but as they don’t divide, they can’t “regenerate the tumour”. Ines Marin is a doctoral student and author of the study who believes their findings are “very positive”.  

“Our study concludes that the induction of senescence in tumour cells improves the recognition of these cells by the immune system and it also increases the intensity of the response they generate.”  

Next level immune responses 

Led by Dr Manuel Serrano and Dr Federico Pietrocola the group explored the effectiveness of senescence in immunisation. The IRB describes how this was a two-pronged approach looking at preventing and improving cancer in mice. As a therapeutic option, although limited by the “protective barrier of the tumour”, some “improvements were also observed”. Dr Serrano explained that this could be a positive step in understanding the immune response. 

“Our results indicate that senescent cells are a preferred option when it comes to stimulating the immune system against cancer, and they pave the way to considering vaccination with these cells as a possible therapy.”  

The study is supported 

Using animal models of melanoma and pancreatic cancer, as well as samples from cancer patients, they found that “human cancer cells also have a greater capacity to activate the immune system when they are previously rendered senescent”. The next step is a combined approach of vaccination and immunotherapy.  

This study was published in the same journal as another article that IRB describes as “completed in collaboration with IRB Barcelona”. This reaches “complementary conclusions” from a “different approach”. The work reveals that these senescent cells are better able to “receive” signals from their environment, which “amplifies the anti-tumour effects of signals such as interferon, making tumour cells more visible to the immune system”.  

These studies present further potential for cancer therapies, which we know to be a huge task for researchers across the globe. To learn more about progress in cancer and immunotherapies at the World Vaccine Congress in Washington next year, get your tickets now.