Biology

Common chemical reverses progeria symptoms and normal age-related damage

Common chemical reverses proge...
Methylene blue reversed the effects of progeria on cells
Methylene blue reversed the effects of progeria on cells
View 1 Image
Methylene blue reversed the effects of progeria on cells
1/1
Methylene blue reversed the effects of progeria on cells

A new study by a team of scientists at the University of Maryland (UMD) indicates that a common chemical can reverse the symptoms of the premature-aging disease progeria and perhaps even those of normal aging. According to the study, small doses of methylene blue can undo the damage done to cells by the genetic defect that causes progeria with a speed and reliability that the scientists claim is "like magic."

Progeria is a rare, notorious, and tragic genetic disease that afflicts the young. The patients usually show symptoms in the first year of life, which are similar to normal aging, except greatly speeded up. They become thin, the bones and joints grow fragile, the skin wrinkles, all hair is lost, and death occurs from organ failure and complications by the time most reach their teens.

It's caused by a defect in the gene that controls the production of lamin A protein, which is part of the cellular nucleus under the nuclear membrane. According to the UMD team, healthy cells cut off a small part of each lamin A molecule, which allows it to carry out its function properly. In progeria, the molecules remain unaltered and interfere with the workings of the nuclear membrane until it starts to bulge and deform and the cell stops looking like a ball and resembles a sick popcorn kernel.

For the first time, the team recorded the extent to which progeria affects the mitochondria, which are the powerplants of the cell. The progeria defect causes them to swell, fragment, and malfunction. This was suspected, but not properly seen before.

But the bigger discovery by the UMD team is that small doses of methylene blue, a common, inexpensive, water-soluble can reverse the symptoms of progeria in less than eight weeks.

First produced in 1876, methylene blue is used as a bacteriological stain, for treating plaque psoriasis and other diseases, in cases of cyanide poisoning, and even for cleaning aquaria because its toxicity is so low it won't harm fish eggs.

Working with human fibroblast cells, the team discovered that methylene blue changed progeria-affected cells from deformed to normal round shapes in a matter of weeks and almost completely repaired the damage until they are nearly indistinguishable from normal cells. Exactly how methylene blue does this is still not clear, but the team reports that repeated experiments have not revealed a single failure.

According to the team, methylene blue can also reverse the effects of normal aging in healthy cells, including damage to the mitochondria. The researchers say that the next step will be to test the chemical on animal models. If the results pan out, it could be used as an inexpensive disease treatment, as well as in non-prescription anti-aging treatments, cosmetics, and nutritional supplements.

"So far, we have done all of our work in stem cell lines." says Kan Cao, senior author on the study and an associate professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at UMD. "It is critical to see whether the effect extends to whole animals. We also want to see if methylene blue can repair specific effects of progeria in various cell types, such as bone, skin, cardiovascular cells and others. Further down the line, other groups might begin human clinical trials. It's very exciting."

The study was published in Aging Cell.

Source: University of Maryland

8 comments
Joel Detrow
Seems quite promising, at least in a petri dish. Here's hoping it still works when they test it on animals!
guzmanchinky
I'm 45. Here's hoping with all the technology and effort being put into anti-aging that I WILL LIVE FOREVER! Or at least a lot longer... :)
habakak
Yeah, it's never that simple. Testing it in a petri dish on some simple cells is a far cry from the complexity of an animal or human body. This would be magic and therefor it cannot really be.
ezeflyer
There will be a run on aquarium cleaners.
Art Toegemann
Verdicts don't always verify. Only leg work, examination of content is able to catch lying.
Derek Howe
Cool. I also would like to live forever! :) Who wouldn't!?!?
EH
Methylene blue is used in treating several other diseases; it is on the WHO list of essential medicines. In the 19th and early 20th century it was used for treating malaria, and was the first totally synthetic drug used in medicine. It is also used as a tissue stain for microscope slides, a redox indicator, a test for detergents in wastewater, and a test for suspended clay in water. Combined with light therapy WP says it is also used for treating: "plaque psoriasis, AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma, West Nile virus, and to inactivate staphylococcus aureus, HIV-1, Duck hepatitis B, adenovirus vectors, and hepatitis C." It is still used for treating cyanide poisoning, fungal infections, and for the few remaining Blue Fugates of Kentucky, who have a genetic disease that turns their skin the color of blueberry juice. It also turns your pee blue.