Werner's syndrome is one variety of apparently accelerated aging. It is less aggressive than Progeria, the other most common varient of this class of rare conditions, but still horrible enough. Scientists have already shown that Progeria is accelerated aging (rather than just appearing to be accelerated aging), a fact that makes this condition even more compelling for aging researchers. Curing Progeria should pave the way for advances in our understanding of the aging process in healthy adults.
But back to Werner's Syndrome. An article from the ever-reliable Betterhumans brings us up to date on the latest:
A new discovery about a protein's role in a premature aging disease has given researchers a better understanding of the illness and provided insight into normal aging.
The disease, Werner's syndrome, causes young people who would be otherwise healthy to suffer from such aging-related conditions as osteoporosis, heart disease, cataracts, wrinkled skin and grey hair.
Sufferers are known to lack a protein called RecQ helicase WRN. However, until now scientists were unsure why the absence of this protein affected so many different cells.
Telomeres are like ticking clocks, normally shortening when cells divide and initiating cell death when they get too short. But without RecQ helicase WRN, Karlseder and colleagues found, telomeres can often be lost instead of just shortening.
The researchers believe that the lost telomeres can lead to chromosomal instability which can result in cancer. This could explain why many Werner's sufferers die of cancer by middle age.
"The finding that the loss of individual chromosome ends (telomeres) can induce cellular aging is significant for aging in general, since it contradicts the hypothesis that all telomeres in a cell gradually erode, and at a certain critical length induce an aging program," says Karlseder.
"The biggest implication of our studies lies in the understanding of age-related cancer development," says Karlseder. "One could hypothesize that avoiding individual telomere loss (by that I mean loss of a telomere from a single chromosome) would avoid genome instability and therefore cancer."
So it comes back to telomeres, just like many other threads of modern research into aging and cancer. Developing therapies for Werner's may bolster our understanding of telomere science, and thus aid the fight to cure aging and cancer.