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We can slow the process; Scientists find new therapy to fight ageing.

Byline: Helen Rae

SCIENTISTS in the North East have discovered a potential drug therapy which could help slow down the ageing process for people suffering a rare disease.

The breakthrough was led by researchers at Durham University seeking a cure for a fatal childhood disease.

It is hoped a new treatment they have developed may help some newborns and lead to greater understanding of how the damaging effects of ageing could be prevented.

Researchers at the university worked with a team at the University of Bologna to look at a group of inherited degenerative disorders called Laminopathies that are caused by mutations of a gene.

The most severe disorders linked to this mutation include Hutchinson Gilford Progeria Syndrome (HGPS), a lethal disease that causes premature ageing in children and affects one in four to eight million newborns worldwide.

Prof Chris Hutchison, a member of the Biophysical Sciences Institute at Durham University, led the 18-month study.

He said: "It is a very exciting scientific development and we achieved what we set out to achieve. What we have discovered is a means of slowing down the ageing process in children that have premature ageing disease.

"In youngsters with Progeria, we can see that double-strand breaks in the DNA architecture of cells increase which in turn adds to poor rates of cell growth.

"We have found that DNA damage can be controlled and our findings could be an important step to helping children with Progeria to live lives that are less debilitating in terms of health problems."

The treatment works by combining existing medicine with an over-the-counter dietary supplement, N-acetyl cysteine, to repair or reverse damaged cells.

The findings could have significant benefits, such as reducing degeneration of some tissues in older age, and could assist health management in countries, including the UK, where average life expectancy is extending, according to the researchers.

Prof Hutchinson added: "We are using a careful approach that will look at patients with Progeria to see if there is a model that can be used for wider medicine.

"Most people talk about extending lifespan but over the years we've already seen an extending lifespan among the population.

"We want to be able to look at ways of extending a healthy, positive lifespan in old age and assist health management.

"The findings are at a very early stage but they show the potential for helping people to live more comfortable and less painful lives when they reach 70 and 80 years of age and beyond."

Progeria is a rare, genetic condition characterised by an appearance of accelerated aging in children.

Children with the illness look much older than their years, and suffer growth failure, loss of body fat and hair, aged-looking skin, stiff joints and hip dislocation. They are more at risk of heart disease and stroke and tend not to live past their early teens.

The study was funded by the Association for Cancer Research, One North East and the European Commission. Its findings are published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics.

Researchers said that the findings were at an early stage and further studies and human clinical trials would be needed.


PREMATURE AGEING How the disease, Progeria, affects youngsters RESEARCH PROJECT Prof Chris Hutchison, a member of the Biophysical Sciences Institute at Durham University, who has led the study into ageing
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 2, 2011
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