A research has suggested that the deterioration of mitochondria is a major cause of ageing.
One unique feature of mitochondria is that they have their own DNA, known as mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited from the mother only. Defects in this DNA can cause genetic disease, such as diabetes, blindness and heart problems.
Since the mitochondrial DNA are also linked to ageing, the researchers believe that fixing the flaws in them can slow down the onset of old age. But gene therapy, which involves inserting healthy DNA into mitochondria, has failed to fix flaws to date.
Scientists at Marie Curie University in Paris have now achieved success in inserting the functional genes with an "address code" in the mitochondria, and thereby repairing the damage behind a rare form of blindness and a muscle wasting disease.
The researchers believe that the same approach may be used to create injections of genes that will erase flaws though to be linked to the ageing process. Such injections would be effective in slowing down ageing but not in halting it completely.
"It is not a panacea but, if successful, it might potentially correct part of this ageassociated damage to mitochondria which might be important in slowing down ageing," the Daily Mail quoted Professor Patrick Chinnery, a leading British expert on mitochondrial disorders, as telling New Scientist magazine.
"What they are doing sounds potentially a very clever idea. There is no treatment for these diseases, so any advance is clearly of great interest," Professor Chinnery added.
The French researchers behind the breakthrough are now planning to move their experiments from cells to rats, with human treatments being the ultimate aim.
They have to ensure that the therapy does not disrupt other vital processes, and that genes are taken to the right parts of the body without causing harmful side effects to other tissues.