Progeria and the Mysteries of Aging

The latest research on progeria, an extremely rare disorder that ages children before their time, offers new clues about the aging process.

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Medical Research Breakthrough

In 2003 an exciting medical breakthrough occurred when researchers discovered a mutation in the LMNA gene that produces lamin A protein. In normal circumstances, lamin A contributes to making proteins that hold the centers (nuclei) of cells together. When LMNA is mutated one of these proteins, now identified as progerin, is not produced properly making the nuclei unstable. Subsequently cells die prematurely, leading to symptoms of progeria.

“What we are learning now is that all of us have this protein in our bodies, and we have more of it as we age,” says Dr. Leslie Gordon, MD, PhD, cofounder and medical director of The Progeria Research Foundation. “This is a major discovery because it means that we now know about something that is directly related to aging.”

Progeria is not simply accelerated aging. While it does resemble many of the characteristics seen in a typical aging population, important differences exist, including a lack of higher cancer rates. 

“There is a subset of the features of aging that progeria is an excellent example for,” says Jeffrey Innis, MD, PhD, a pediatric geneticist at the University of Michigan Medical School.  “The research that’s being done is trying to tease out the molecular mechanisms involved in making an individual appear to have features of aging in some areas but not others.” Progeria children do not exhibit higher incidences of cancer, but they do suffer cardiovascular problems of someone 10 times their age.

New Hope for Progeria Patients

The discovery of the progeria gene has spurred 3 clinical drug trials, including one between the Progeria Research Foundation and Children’s Hospital Boston, where 28 children from 16 countries, ages 3-15, participated between 2007-2009. A new “triple drug trial” began in 2010  in Boston with 45 children from 24 countries, speaking 17 languages enrolled . All of the trials have involved trying to block the production of progerin, the protein made in the mutation. These medical research strides are giving progeria children and their families new hope for an effective treatment, and shedding new light on the phenomenon of aging.

Click here to download a reference of progeria quick facts.