Researchers at the UCLA stem cell center and the departments of chemistry and biochemistry and pathology and laboratory medicine have identified, for the first time, a generic way to correct mutations in human mitochondrial DNA by targeting corrective RNAs, a finding with implications for treating a host of mitochondrial diseases.

Mutations in the human mitochondrial genome are implicated in neuromuscular diseases, metabolic defects and aging. There currently are no methods to successfully repair or compensate for these mutations, said study co-senior author Dr. Michael Teitell, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and a researcher with the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA.

Between 1,000 and 4,000 children per year in the United States are born with a mitochondrial disease and up to one in 4,000 children in the U.S. will develop a mitochondrial disease by the age of 10, according to Mito Action, a nonprofit organization supporting research into mitochondrial diseases. In adults, many diseases of aging have been associated with defects of mitochondrial function, including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.

“I think this is a finding that could change the field,” Teitell said. “We’ve been looking to do this for a long time and we had a very reasoned approach, but some key steps were missing. Now we have developed this method and the next step is to show that what we can do in human cell lines with mutant mitochondria can translate into animal models and, ultimately, into humans.”

The study appears March 12, 2012 in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.