According to a breakthrough scientific discovery, the secret to keep cells young has been discovered. An international team, spearheaded by Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte of the Salk Institute, conducted a study on the gene accountable for a hastened aging ailment known as Werner syndrome, or adult progeria, where patients exhibit symptoms of osteoporosis, gray hair and coronary disease in early adulthood, said a study published in Science, Thursday.
Patients of this disease have a deficiency of a gene in charge of replicating DNA, the ability to repair any faults of the replication course, and to keep track of telomeres, the DNA fragments at the tips of chromosomes that acts akin to genetic clock which dictates life span of cells.
Belmonte, with scientists at University Catolica San Antonio Murcia and the Institute of Biophysics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, keenly wishes to understand how the mutated gene elicited aging in cells. So they removed this gene from a budding stem cells, which will advance into all cells of the human body. As the cells aged prematurely, they deduced that the reason they old so quickly had to do with the packaging of their DNA.
For proper functioning, DNA should be twisted tight and wound to resemble a rope-like chromosome in the cell nucleus. When the cell is about to divide, the DNA unwraps itself in small segments at a time. In Werner syndrome sufferers, chromosomes are marginally messier, more loosely stuffed in the nuclei, which leads to instability that drives the cell to age quicker. Belmonte discovered that the Werner gene regulates this chromosome stability.
Even thrilling them more was the discovery that older individual ages 58 to 72 years had fewer genetic markers for the chromosome instability, while young people aged 7 to 26 years display higher levels of these indicators, in stem cells population extracted from the dental tissues of young and old people alike.
“What this study means is that this protein does not only work in a particular genetic disease, it works in all humans. This mechanism is general for aging process,” says Belmonte.
However, before being considered as the Fountain of Youth, new and better procedure that can specifically and safely modify the Werner gene, needs to be developed not just a culture dish of human cells.
He stresses that there may be other processes which contributes to aging, and its importance to chromosome stability is not clear yet.