Cheap, Common Chemical Can Reverse Progeria In Human Cells

Methylene blue is used in laboratories across the world, and scientists have discovered it has remarkable potential in treating Progeria. It may even slow 'normal' aging too.

What is Progeria?

A young girl suffering with progeria. The Progeric cell nucleus is misshapen and collapsed (bottom right)

Also known as Hutchinson–Gilford progeria syndrome, Progeria is a rare genetic disorder that manifests as intensified premature aging. It results from a mutation in the gene for Lamin A - which stabilises the nuclear membrane among other roles. Progeric cells also display dysfunctional mitochondria and struggle to maintain normal functions. It is one of a number of disorders that mimic the aging process. These conditions could potentially tell us a great deal about the aging process itself, considering they often display many similar symptoms. Children with Progeria rarely live longer than early adolescence and 90% die from atherosclerosis complications. 

Aside from being a tragic condition, there is hope that developing treatments for these progeroid conditions may in turn reveal more about aging itself, and stumble across treatments applicable to the normal aging process itself. 

Enter methylene blue

In the latest research, methylene blue was able to almost entirely repair symptoms in progeric human cells, and even showed potential in treating age-related decline. 

Methylene blue staining of cells 

"We tried very hard to examine the effect of methylene blue on all known progeria symptoms within the cell. It seems that methylene blue rescues every affected structure within the cell. When we looked at the treated cells, it was hard to tell that they were progeria cells at all. It's like magic."

Credit: Kan Cao/Zheng-Mei Xiong

The fact methylene blue was able to repair both the nuclear membrane defects and mitochondrial ones too is striking. The effect was so pronounced the treated cells were almost indistinguishable from healthy ones. 

"We have repeated these experiments many times and have not seen a single one fail. This is such an exciting result with so much potential, both for progeria and normal aging. Methylene blue is common and inexpensive. It is fully water soluble and non-toxic. People use it to clean fish tanks because it is so safe for the fish eggs."

While the results are exciting, especially in regards to potential Progeria treatment, methylene blue is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI and has some serious side effects in combination with certain drugs like SSRIs - leading to serotonin toxicity. It will also require human trials to establish safe, effective dosages if this rejuvenative effect is verified. 

"So far, we have done all of our work in stem cell lines. It is critical to see whether the effect extends to whole animals," Cao explained. "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."

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