Telomeres are essential part of human cells that affect how our cells age, and a new study has shown that extending telomeres can slow down the cell aging process.
The study allows scientists to increase cell numbers for testing drugs, but may also hold a key to longer and healthier lives.
Helen M. Blau, Ph.D., who led the research as Director of the Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, California, said that in the near term, since biomedical research depends heavily on having large numbers of cells available for study, they hope that these findings will be broadly applicable in the search for treatments and cures for disease.
Blau continued that ultimately, they hope that these findings will help prevent, delay or treat age-related conditions and diseases, as well as certain devastating genetic diseases of inadequate telomere maintenance.
Blau and colleagues delivered modified mRNA encoding TERT, the enzyme that increases the length of telomeres by adding DNA repeats, to four groups of cells. The first group received modified mRNA encoding TERT, and the other three groups were controls that received either mRNA encoding an inactive form of TERT, the solution in which TERT is delivered, or no treatment. The telomeres of the first group (telomere-extending treatment group) were rapidly lengthened over a period of a few days, whereas the telomeres of the three control groups were not extended. The first group was also able to undergo more cell divisions, whereas the controls were not. Importantly for the potential safety of this approach, the telomeres of the first group resumed shortening after they were extended, showing that due to the short, transient treatment, the cells were not immortalized.
Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal, said that it might not be the Fountain of Youth to keep us young forever, but this discovery is a real shot in the arm adding that in short term it will help them to understand how aging affects the molecular machinery of cells.
The study is published in The FASEB Journal.