The key to eternal life could be a procedure to lengthen chromosomes.
The procedure would allow scientists to lengthen telomeres, the protective caps that are on the end of chromosomes and shorten with age.
The telomeres protect chromosomes from getting damage as cells divide and grow. But as they do, they slowly become shorter and eventually are unable to protect the chromosomes. When that happens, they are liable to deteriorate — thought to be a key part of the ageing process.
The new process allows scientists to lengthen the telomeres, effectively turning back the biological clock and making the chromosomes — and the people that are made out of them — younger.
When the cells have been treated, they behave as if they are younger and multiply quickly rather than stagnating or dying.
The procedure could eventually be used to treat patients with genetic diseases that lead to the telomere being shortened before it should be, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It could also be used to treat more general symptoms of ageing, like diabetes and heart disease.
“This new approach paves the way toward preventing or treating diseases of ageing,” said one of the researchers on the study. “There are also highly debilitating genetic diseases associated with telomere shortening that could benefit from such a potential treatment.”
The researchers behind the study hope that the procedure will be able to allow scientists to generate large numbers of cells to study or use to develop drugs.
The process has been discovered by Helen Blau of Stanford University, who was senior author on a paper describing the procedure with John Ramunas of Stanford and Eduard Yakubov from the Houston Methodist Research Institute.
“Now 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,” said Helen Blau, who is also professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford and director of the university’s Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology. “This greatly increases the number of cells available for studies such as drug testing or disease modeling.
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