MONDAY, Aug. 29, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A class of anticancer drugs may also be an effective treatment for progeria, a rare but fatal genetic disorder in children that causes premature aging.
"This is a stunning surprise, rather like finding out that the key to your house also works in the ignition of your car," said co-author Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.
The drugs are farnesyltransferase inhibitors, and were originally developed to inhibit certain cancer-causing proteins. New York University medical student Brian Capell, working with Collins, found that the drugs also block the cellular process through which progeria occurs.
Although Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome is a rare disease affecting only one child in 4 million, it has received wide publicity due to its striking nature.
Children born with the disorder appear normal, but experience growth retardation and show symptoms of accelerated aging around the first year of age, including hair loss, skin wrinkling and fat loss. Death usually occurs around age 12 due to accelerated cardiovascular disease.
The findings appear in this week's online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Institutes of Health has more about progeria.