Drug rescues cells that age too fast

From Munich, at the Euroscience Open Forum meeting

BAD FIBER. Bundles of fibers, a Werner syndrome hallmark, are abundant in an untreated cell (left). Most disappeared in a treated cell (right). Kipling/Cardiff Univ.

People with the rare genetic disease Werner syndrome appear to age at up to five times the normal rate. Furthermore, their cells and tissues undergo early senescence and death. Scientists have now identified a potential drug that slows aging processes in lab tests of cells from Werner patients.

David Kipling’s team at Cardiff University in Wales discovered that early deaths of Werner patients’ cells trace, in part, to an overactive enzyme—P38 MAP kinase—that’s involved in stress and inflammation. The researchers learned of an agent that inhibits the enzyme, so they tried treating Werner cells in test tubes with the compound, known at this point as SB203580.

Although Werner cells typically look stressed, as indicated by fiber bundles within, those treated for a few weeks with SB203580 regained a youthful appearance. If daily doses of treatment continued, the cells also had normal life spans.

The findings “give us a road map to potentially develop a therapy,” Kipling says. Moreover, he notes, because cancer and other conditions can also overstimulate the kinase, drugs that control it might someday be useful against several diseases.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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