Many medical conditions such as dementia, diabetes, hearing loss and cardiovascular disease are age related. At what stage and how severe these conditions manifest themselves is however determined by our genes. Very little is actually known about how genes do so, or even which genes influence these age-related conditions.
In an animal study done by a team from Medical Research Council (MRC) Harwell, several genes connected with age-related conditions such as osteoarthritis, retinal degeneration and hearing loss have been identified by using a huge screening program. The results of the study could result in similar research to create screening programs for humans once the equivalent genes has been identified. Such a program would help to identify the risk of contracting an age-related condition long before the actual symptoms appear.
To identify specific genes related to a medical condition, the team introduced mutations at random positions in the genes of mice. This was done before the mice were born and their health was monitored as they aged. If a condition relating to age manifested itself, the researchers examined which specific gene in that mouse had been mutated. The Slc4a10 gene was one of those identified using this method. It is known that Slc4a10 is required for eye functions, but this is the first time a defective copy of the gene has been linked to age-related hearing loss.
The results of this study raises the question whether or not naturally occurring mutations of the same genes in humans relate to late-onset conditions. Further investigation is needed to answer the question, but screening people for defects in the identified genes in future could help to predict their chances of developing a particular condition. The early prediction could inform future timing of interventions or treatment development.
Dr Paul Potter of MRC Harwell, the lead researcher of the study, notes that this research is an important springboard as the first and vital step in developing new therapies. Understanding which genes are involved in age-related conditions in humans should be followed by determining how changing those genes influences this.
Dr Lindsay Wilson, Program Manager for Genetics and Genomics at the MRC feels that the results of this study may ultimately help identify new treatments due to an increased understanding of the genes responsible for age-related conditions.
The study done on animals has been published in Nature Communications.