Combination gene therapy could tackle aging

Written by Alexander Marshall

Combining gene therapy concepts into a single treatment may benefit longevity and fight age-related conditions, according to a new study.

New research from a team at Harvard University (MA, USA) has shown that utilizing multiple age-related genes simultaneously demonstrates a significant impact upon the health of mice. The work, published in PNAS, suggests that a holistic approach may enable better treatments for age-related conditions. Aging populations, along with the co-occurring conditions associated with them, currently pose a growing issue for many countries, so such research could help to manage the demands placed upon healthcare systems.

Combining known genes which influence aging into a single dose of adeno-associated virus demonstrated a profound effect on mice. The strains of mice utilized suffered from diabetes, kidney failure or heart failure as they age; however, when these were treated with a virus cocktail containing Fgf2 and one other gene — either Fgfβr2 or αKlotho — they displayed an ability to counteract all of the health-related conditions.

         Achieving these results in non-transgenic mice is a major step toward being able to develop this treatment into a therapy and co-administering multiple disease-addressing genes could help alleviate the immune issues that could arise from the alternative of delivering multiple, separate gene therapies for each disease. This research marks a milestone in being able to effectively treat the many diseases associated with aging, and perhaps could lead to a means of addressing aging itself,” stated George Church (Harvard University), a senior author of the paper.

The virus cocktail led to a 75% reduction in kidney failure and a 58% increase in heart function in their respective models, as well as significant weight-loss; however, researchers have been left questioning the adverse effect of combining all three longevity genes used.

Currently, most age-related conditions are treated through pharmacological therapies; however, this can be incredibly costly for the individual and can result in various side-effects. By creating a single treatment, which does not integrate into the host genome and would only need to be administered once, researchers hope to eventually pave the way for a new therapy regime, bypassing the costs and consequences of age-related medication.

Sources: Davidsohn N, Pezzone M, Vernet A et al. A single combination gene therapy treats multiple age-related diseases. PNAS. doi:10.1073/pnas.1910073116 (2019);   

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