The Science Behind Progeria
Children with Progeria are genetically predisposed to premature, progressive heart disease. Death occurs almost exclusively due to widespread heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide. As with any person suffering from heart disease, the common events for Progeria children are high blood pressure, strokes, angina (chest pain due to poor blood flow to the heart itself), enlarged heart, and heart failure, all conditions associated with aging.
Thus, there is clearly a tremendous need for research in Progeria. Finding a cure for Progeria will not only help these children, but may provide keys for treating millions of adults with heart disease and stroke associated with the natural aging process.
Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome (“Progeria”, or “HGPS”) is caused by a mutation in the gene called LMNA (pronounced, lamin – a). The LMNA gene produces the Lamin A protein, which is the structural scaffolding that holds the nucleus of a cell together. Researchers now believe that the defective Lamin A protein makes the nucleus unstable. That cellular instability appears to lead to the process of premature aging in Progeria.
PRF was the driving force behind finding the gene responsible for Progeria. A group of leading scientists from The Progeria Research Foundation’s Genetics Consortium was able to isolate the Progeria gene in October 2002, and in April 2003, PRF led the announcement that Progeria is caused by a mutation of the gene LMNA, or Lamin A. This gene discovery was reported in the leading scientific journal Nature¨.
The Progeria gene finding involved intensive collaboration between scientists including Dr. Leslie Gordon, PRF’s Medical Director, Dr. W. Ted Brown, a world expert on Progeria and Chairman of New York’s Institute of Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities’ Department of Human Genetics, Dr. Tom Glover, a PRF grantee and Professor at University of Michigan’s Department of Human Genetics, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (responsible for mapping the human genome) and the senior author on the report, and first author Dr. Maria Eriksson, a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Collins.
How is Progeria Diagnosed?
Now that the gene mutation has been identified, The Progeria Research Foundation has created a Diagnostics Testing Program. We can now look at the specific genetic change, or mutation, in the Progeria gene that leads to HGPS. After an initial clinical evaluation (looking at the child’s appearance and medical records), a sample of the child’s blood will be tested for the Progeria gene. For the first time ever, there is a definitive, scientific way to diagnose the children. This will lead to more accurate and earlier diagnoses so that the children can receive proper care.