HOUSTON, TEXAS, USA. Researchers at Houston Methodist have made a surprising discovery leading to the development of technology with the ability to rejuvenate human cells. This couldn’t be more important for the small population of children who are aging too quickly, children with progeria. The Chair of the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at Houston Methodist Research Institute, John P. Cooke and his colleagues, described their findings in a Research Letter titled “Telomerase mRNA Reverses Senescence in Progeria Cells.”
Cooke studied cells from children with progeria, a rare condition marked by rapid aging that usually robs them of the chance to live beyond their early teens. The researchers focused on progeria, because the condition tells them a lot about aging in general that’s ultimately relevant to all of us.
“These kids are dying of heart attack and stroke at 13, 14, 15 years old. Although current therapies are useful, they only add a year or two, on average, to the child’s life. We wanted to do something that would improve the children’s quality of life and potentially allow them to live longer, so we set about studying their cells and seeing if we could improve the cell function,” Cooke said.
They discovered that the telomeres were shorter in children with progeria and thought if they could restore the telomere length, then perhaps they could improve the cell function and its ability to divide and respond to stress.
Methodist Hospital Research Institute Houston, Texas
To do this, the researchers used a technology called RNA therapeutics. They were able to get the cells to produce a protein, called telomerase, that can extend and lengthen the telomere. They did this by delivering RNA to the cells that encodes this protein. Essentially, they gave the cells the information they needed to extend the telomere via an RNA delivery system and let the cells do the rest.
“What was most unexpected about our work was the dramatic effect the telomere-extending technology had on the cells,” Cooke said. “We were not expecting to see such a dramatic effect on the ability of the cells to proliferate. They could function and divide more normally, and we gave them extra lifespan, as well as better function.”
The research team also compared their approach at the cellular level to the current therapies available.
He said many of the diseases he sees are due to aging which is a major risk factor for heart and vascular diseases.