The Secret to Eternal Life May Reside Inside Our Own Bodies

telomeres
Chromosomes capped by telomeres

The question of eternal life has existed since the dawn of man and most likely will continue to fascinate us all.

However, while individuals and religions look to mythical powers, religious figures and magical potions, the truth is that the secret to eternal life may actually already exist in our own bodies.

The Quick and Dirty on Telomeres

Almost everyone learns about chromosomes at some point in science class, but few people learn (or remember) about telomeres, which are the little caps on the end of each chromosome. The purpose of telomeres is to protect each chromosome from attaching to other chromosomes or from falling apart.

A telomere also protects the gene when the chromosome replicates since replication moves down to the end of the chromosome. If there were no telomere at the end to act as a cap to the replication process, the information inherent in each gene would eventually be lost. When the original telomere itself dissolves due to replication, a natural enzyme called telomerase replenishes the telomere.

Over time, as the telomeres continue to shorten due to chromosomal replication, cells eventually stop replicating and begin to age. This is the natural progression of aging in the body.

Telomerase – The Anti-Aging Enzyme

Now that we understand more about how the body ages, let us explore how telomeres may also help us actually prevent aging. Telomerase is an enzyme that produces a DNA sequence in the telomeres of each chromosome. The specific DNA sequence is “TTAGGG” for vertebrates, which of course includes humans.

In 1973, a Soviet scientist named Alexey Olovnikov studied the connection of telomeres to aging and cancer. In 1984, scientists Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider published a study about the discovery of the telomerase enzyme, which eventually led to them earning the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Implications on Aging

The study of telomeres and telomerase has led to the discovery that even embryonic stem cells create telomerase, which allow the original stem cells to duplicate in the natural process of actually creating life. The production of telomerase continues until adulthood, when the production continues actively in cells in certain areas of the body, such as the immune system, while other cells slow down the production of telomerase, hence allowing the body to show signs of aging.

Some scientists, therefore, hypothesize that the use of telomerase therapy may help battle some diseases that cause premature aging, such as Bloom and Werner syndromes. In addition, there is hope that telomerase therapy may be able to prolong life for all humans eventually, whether sick or not. At the very least, it is possible that telomerase therapy may help slow down the appearance of aging.

In addition, some studies have shown that telomerase therapy may help increase healthy cell turnover and may even increase antiviral activity in the body for HIV-positive patients.

There is also hope that the use of telomeres or telomerase therapy could help repair damaged organs, increase fertility and even reverse tissue degeneration. However, some scientific studies show that mice given higher levels of telomerase develop cancer at a higher rate than other mice and therefore do not live longer because of the cancer. Clearly, there is additional work to be done before telomerase therapy is ready for the prime time.

Final Thoughts

Much more research is necessary on telomeres and telomerase therapy, as both a potential cancer cure and anti-aging therapy. However, the research is promising and scientists are working hard on discovering how to manage the potential of telomerase therapy in a way that benefits humans without increasing the odds of dangerous and deadly diseases such as cancer. When and if they are successful, the secret to eternal life might just be ours after all.

[About the author: James Huxtable is a graduate student researcher who is working with a number of others to determine if it’s possible to improve the efficacy of the lone telomerase supplement available on the market today. He thanks you for taking the time to read this article!]

One thought on “The Secret to Eternal Life May Reside Inside Our Own Bodies

  • August 24, 2012 at 12:29 pm
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    Thanks for writing Telomerase 101! I think this is the first clear article I’ve read on it.

    The cancer connection sounds formidable and I would expect the fastest progress in tissue regeneration.

    Is there anything practical we can do to preserve, protect or regenerate telomerase in our own body?

    Reply

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