The discovery of a potential driver in the aging process could lead to methods of preventing and treating diseases such as type 2 diabetes, a new study reveals.
Scientists at the Salk Institute and the Chinese Academy of Sciences studied the genetic mutations underlying Werner syndromen, which can cause rapid aging and death.
People with Werner syndrome suffer age-related disease such as type 2 diabetes and cancer early in life, which can lead to patients dying in their late 40s or early 50s.
Researchers identified that these mutations led to disorganisation in bundles of DNA known as heterochromatin. When these bundles are disrupted, the heterochromatin are less tightly packaged which allows environmental factors to influence genes being turned on and off.
The researcher team report this discovery could lead to techniques being developed which could manipulate epigenetic marks. This treatment could influence genes being turned on or off, with scientists hopeful that altering these marks could lead to changes in the aging process.
Subsequently, this could have implications for age-related diseases as researchers claim the disruption of heterochromatin may play a role in type 2 diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease .
Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a senior author on the paper and scientist at Salk Institute reported these findings “suggest that accumulated alterations in the structure of heterochromatin may be a major underlying cause of cellular aging.
“This begs the question of whether we can reverse these alterations-like remodeling an old house or car – to prevent, or even reverse, age-related declines and diseases.”
The findings of this study were published in the journal Science.

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