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Telomerase Enzyme Extends the Lifespan of Mice
Scientists are trying to inspire give the humanity the gift of immortality. In the latest attempt to eradicate death, the researchers injected the healthy mice with dose of telomerase, an enzyme that our chromosomes (and therefore our cells and bodies) maintains "young". With this therapy, scientists were able to extend the life of mice by 24%, and best of all is that the therapy produced absolutely no unwanted side effects. At least not yet.

Shortening of Telomeres is Responsible for Aging

As man gets older, the cells are getting older too. Dying cells are replaced by new ones by cell division, but this process is not without side effects. After each cell division, DNA molecules are shortened at the end of chromosomes (regions called telomeres). At one point, when the telomeres are shortened to a certain extent, this piece of DNA signals the cell that it is time to stop further division. Cessation of cell division prevents the formation of new tissue, and therefore, this process leads to the destruction of tissues build of those cells. As a result, these tissues are rapidly deteriorated and, to cut a long story, this process seems to be the reason people do not live forever. But maybe not for long.

The Molecular Cocktail

Scientists claim that they have found a molecular cocktail that, at least in mice, act like an elixir of youth. The scientists injected the telomerase gene in mice, which has slowed down the aging process by lengthening the telomeres and thus allowed cells to divide much longer time than it would be in a normal state. Researchers injected the molecular cocktail to the one-year mouse (in the mouse world, this is considered an adult) and two-year mouse (briefly - an old man). Lifetime of one-year mouse, by this therapy is prolonged by 24%, while the percentage of two-year mouse was slightly lower - 13%. But besides they lived longer, the mice benefited from this therapy in many other ways. It seems that the therapy had a very positive effect on a variety of conditions that are commonly associated with aging, including insulin sensitivity, osteoporosis and physical coordination.

It should also be noted that the second group of mice was injected with inactive form of telomerase, which had no effect on lifetime extension. This confirms that it is the enzymatic activity that has resulted in the extension of telomeres crucial to find an elixir of youth. The study (published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine) was led by the Spanish scientist Maria Blasco from the Spanish National Institute for Cancer Research.

The Use of Viruses as Gene Vectors

This therapy included the replacement of the particular gene in the viruses with the gene for telomerase. This had several advantages. First, viruses are great way to enter the body and they infect a large number of cells. Insertion of telomerase in a small number of cells would probably not have any significant effect on prolonging the life of "infected" body. Second, in this way, the gene remains active for years and, the last, the DNA from the virus did not interfere with DNA from mouse cells. In previous attempts with this type of therapy, there was a considerable risk that the virus infected cells will turn into tumors. For example, in one of the studies, this therapy has caused leukemia in two of nine mice.

The very idea of life extension using telomerase is not new. Scientists have already added telomerase to cultured human cells allowing thus at least 20 new divisions and significantly extent of their lifespans. Mice, which were artificially enabled to produce telomerase, lived 40% longer, and in these mice were observed greater levels of glucose tolerance, better coordination, and less tendency to other infections compared with normal mice. Still, the same genetic modification in humans is not yet a realistic option.

The Answer Is Maybe Near

Aging is a very complicated process that is not yet fully understood. It includes so many factors that it is quite likely that today we are not even aware of the existence of certain important characteristics of the aging process. But if the key to our aging (and of course, death) is just telomere shortening, then the answer is very near, according to recent, above mentioned findings. In short, the point is that we always have enough time to find new drugs for, as de Grey said, "curing the disease called death." If we reach the destination of this exciting journey, it might have been the last step toward immortality.
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