Thursday, October 1, 2009

Say goodbye to Botox

A*Star researcher discovers gene for premature ageing

Ong Dai Lin

Dr Burno Reversade, who discovered PYCR1, the gene that causes premature ageing. PHOTO BY ONG DAI LIN

WHAT began as research on identical twins has led a team of scientists to a discovery that would thrill those in search of the proverbial Fountain of Youth: Identifying the human gene that causes premature skin ageing.

Dr Bruno Reversade, a researcher with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), started examining the gene, PYCR1, three years ago when a pair of twins he was studying developed premature skin ageing. PYCR1 is a gene that produces an amino acid called proline and is found mainly in the skin, bone and brain.

Together with a team of researchers from Singapore and Germany, he discovered that the twins' problem was caused by mutations in the gene.

Dr Reversade, who is from the Institute of Medical Biology (IMB) at A*Star, said: "Other clinicians have reported the disease (premature skin ageing) but did not know what was causing it." The 35-year-old added: "If one would be able to enhance the activity of the gene, you may be able to slow down the ageing process as you age."

His team of five researchers studied DNA samples of 35 affected people from 22 families they recruited over the world and analysed the mutations that led to premature ageing in them.

Dr Reversade collaborated with more than 15 hospitals and research centres in 13 countries in the project. The research findings were published yesterday in the latest issue of Nature Genetics, a prestigious science journal.

Dr Reversade revealed that he is in talks with two major international cosmetic companies about possible collaborations.

On the next stage of the research, Dr Reversade said: "We are going forward trying to really understand how deficiency in the gene leads to ageing. It's going towards a turn which we did not anticipate. It seems to be much more interesting than we thought because it might be linked to cancer and various aspects of brain function."

He explained that if scientists can manipulate genes to slow down ageing in the body, it may be possible that science can help to block the activity of cancer genes and slow down the growth of cancer in a person.

Professor Birgit Lane, a skin biologist and IMB's executive director, said the findings "open up new possibilities in the field of ageing and skin research".

"The study is a great example of scientific synergy - when clinicians and scientists from around the world come together to share their specialist skills and knowledge, they can discover new insights into complex medical conditions," Prof Lane added.

Dr Reversade was the first recipient of the A*Star Investigatorship programme last year. The scheme provides a recipient's laboratory with up to US$500,000 ($720,000) in funding a year.

From TODAY, News – Wednesday, 02-Sep-2009