Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Growing Young Scientists Find Gene That May Help to Slow Aging Process

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Growing Young Scientists Find Gene That May Help to Slow Aging Process

Article excerpt

Scientists have taken the first step toward unlocking genetic mysteries of aging, discovering a gene that one day might lead to treatments for - or even slowing of - diseases that hit the elderly.

The gene causes Werner's syndrome, which turns the hair of 20-year-olds gray and gives them ailments more common to grandparents. Unraveling this premature aging should help doctors better understand normal aging.

"A kind of Holy Grail of aging research has been to find this gene," said Gerard Schellenberg, whose team at the Seattle Veterans Affairs Medical Center won an international race to identify the gene, which is called WRN. Schellenberg said the team was "interested in the aging process itself - not necessarily to arrest it but to help people age in a healthier way." The gene appears to play a vital role in how DNA repairs itself and reproduces, long suspected as keys to aging, Schellenberg reports in today's issue of the journal Science. "This is the first clear evidence" to explain how that could happen, said Dr. Anna McCormick, chief of aging research at the National Institutes of Health. "The goal is to improve people's `health span,' " the length of time they can remain healthy and independent, said McCormick, whose agency helped finance the research. So far, the team has identified four mutations of the gene, which is one of many genes probably involved in aging. This is all early research. Treatments for aging are a long way off and certainly many still undiscovered genes are involved, Schellenberg and other scientists say. `A Whole New Window' Nor does WRN offer gene therapy for Werner's, because every copy of the gene in every cell is defective, a problem too massive to repair, McCormick cautioned. But the discovery does offer "a whole new window into age-related diseases," said David Galas, chief scientist for Darwin Molecular Corp., a biotechnology company in Seattle that holds the patent rights to the gene. The company hopes the discovery will point the way to future drugs. Werner's syndrome is a rare, inherited disease. Victims' hair turns gray in their 20s. Soon, cataracts cloud the vision and osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer and other ailments of the elderly hit. …

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