Researchers at Stanford Medical Center have discovered a means to extend the length of telomeres — the protective caps at the tips of chromosomes responsible for aging — io9’s George Dvorsky reports.
The telomere, much like an aglet on a shoelace, binds the chromosome and prevents it from unraveling. Human telomeres begin at approximately 8,000 to 10,000 nucleotides long, but they get shorter with each cell division — which is the process responsible for aging.
But the scientists at Stanford have found a way to deliver messenger RNA that encodes a telomere-extending protein. The result was that the cells whose chromosomes were treated with this RNA behaved as if they were much younger.
“We have found a way to lengthen human telomeres by as much as 1,000 nucleotides, turning back the internal clock in these cells by the equivalent of many years of human life,” Helen Blau wrote in a press release.
“This new approach paves the way toward preventing or treating diseases of aging,” she said. “There are also highly debilitating genetic diseases associated with telomere shortening that could benefit from such a potential treatment.”
“It might not be the Fountain of Youth to keep us young forever, but this discovery is a real shot in the arm. This work is a game-changer,” Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of the journal that published the study, added.
“In the short term it will help us to understand how aging affects the molecular machinery of cells. In the long-term, the sky’s the limit. Biologists have long guessed that the key to a longer lifespan is figuring out how to extend telomeres. Helen Blau and her colleagues have just done that.”