Telomeres the key to life, aging, diseases and immortality

Telomere

Source: telomere – Wiki , telomere – Huffington, telomere – Harvard, Flickr

Telomeres are at the end of each strand of DNA we have. They are the caps on our DNA. Each DNA strand has the double helix like we have all been taught. Each time a cell divides in your box it looses a little bit of length on the end, or the telomere gets shorter.

You have over 100 trillion cells in your body. These cells all coincide with your body and work together to form you. Each cell lives and dies, replicating itself. An average cell can only replicate itself 52 times. Each time a cell clones itself it gets smaller and smaller. The telomere that caps the end of each of your cell gets shorter and shorter. Eventually the telomere is so short that it cannot divide the cell in two anymore.

So the question remains what happens if you could keep that telomere the same length in all the cells in your body?

There is a few cells in your body that actually can live forever. Deep in your immune system there is cells that have an enzyme called telomerase. After a cell divides part of the telomere from the original cell goes with the newly cloned cell. This enzyme has the ability to grow both telomeres back to the original length so it does not get shorter each time it renews itself.

There have been countless studies on humans that died early. Many of them had very short telomeres. There is strong evidence to show the telomeres stay at a good length in most humans until they reach 50 then gradually decline more and more over time.

In a study done at Harvard they tested their theories on mice with varying ages and problems. Many of the mice were older and they all had short telomeres. The main thing happens with age related diseases such as loss of brain function, loss of fertility, loss of vision and other ailments. In these mice they were engineered to loose their telomerase enzyme. This caused all these age related problems. They were then genetically engineered given the telomerase enzyme to attempt to reverse the effects of aging. The results were amazing. Their telomeres were extended. The tissue was rejuvenated. Brain function was restored. And most surprisingly they showed great youth. Before they were given the telomerase enzyme they aged faster and lost all their fertility. After they were given the enzyme the testes started producing viable sperm again.

In another study scientists used worms instead of mammals. They are easier to work with. In this study they genetically extended their telomeres and it extended the lives of the worms by 4 times. Theoretically that would give humans the ability to live to be 400 years old. We would just age slower. We could live out our 20’s and 30’s over the span of 80 years instead of the 20 years we are given in our prime.

The applications in the real world are countless. They could restore tissue in aging humans. Help with brain function in those losing memories. There also even cancer benefits that scientists are working on right now. Telomerase given properly could even restore reproductive functionality in those who have lost it due to age or had infertility problems.

Could this be the fountain of youth? It looks very promising. This is one of the only concrete evidence we have showing why we age. The question remains if they truly did find a way to lengthen the telomeres in people would this be available to the public? Would Ponce De Leon’s fountain of youth be available at the local drug store?