With the time, these protective “end caps” become shorter with each DNA replication and eventually are no longer able to protect DNA from sustaining damage and mutations, which means we get older.
“We hope that these findings will help prevent, delay or treat age-related conditions and diseases, as well as certain devastating genetic diseases of inadequate telomere maintenance,” said Helen M. Blau of the Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology at Stanford University’s School of Medicine.
Blau and his team delivered modified mRNA encoding TERT – the enzyme that increases the length of telomeres by adding DNA repeats – to four groups of cells. The first group received modified mRNA encoding TERT, and the other three groups were given controls that received either mRNA encoding an inactive form of TERT or no treatment at all.
The telomeres of the first group were rapidly lengthened over a period of a few days whereas the telomeres of the three control groups were not extended and the first group also showed that they were able to undergo more cell divisions.
“We were surprised at how quickly modified TERT mRNA extends telomeres,” added John Ramunas, first author and post-doctoral fellow who pioneered this work in Blau’s Stanford University laboratory.
It may not guarantee the “fountain of youth” to keep us young forever but this discovery is going to be a game-changer,” noted Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal that published the paper. “It will help us to understand how ageing affects the molecular machinery of cells,” the authors said.