So far, more than a dozen treatments of progeria have been tested in different ways, but when it comes to clinical trials conducted in patients with progeria, the results have been disappointing.
"We have seen positive effects in the treatment of mice, but in humans the effect has been too small. We therefore need to rethink and find new ways to treat the disease," says Maria Eriksson, professor at the Department of Biosciences and Nutrition at Karolinska Institutet.
In the now published study, the researchers used cell samples from children with progeria to show an impaired function in the telomeres at the far end of the chromosomes and the accumulation of so-called telomeric non-coding RNA. By adding antisense oligonucleotides, a treatment used to inactivate harmful genes, the researchers were able to reduce the level of telomeric non-coding RNA. This led to a more normalised cell division, which would likely improve patients' conditions and extend their lifespan.
"In a gene altered mouse model of progeria treated in the same way, we saw a significant increase in both the maximum life expectancy, up 44 percent, and the average life expectancy, up 24 percent," says Agustin Sola-Carvajal, former postdoc in Eriksson's research group and co-author of the study. "These results are very promising."
Progerin is also found in healthy subjects and has been observed to increase with age, suggesting the results may also be important for normal aging and age-related disease.
"More research is needed to assess how the relatively low levels of progerin seen in healthy individuals contribute to ageing and age-related disease," says Eriksson. "It is interesting to note that antisense oligonucleotides are now included as drugs in advanced clinical trials, some of which are already approved by the FDA in the U.S."