A naturally occuring substance that can create “immortal cells” could be the key to finding a real elixir of youth, scientists claim.
Researchers believe boosting the amount of a naturally forming enzyme in the body could prevent cells dying and so lead to extended, healthier, lifespans..
The protein telomerase helps maintain the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes which act like the ends of shoelaces and stop them unravelling.
As we age, and our cells divide, these caps become frayed and shorter and eventually are so damaged that the cell dies. Scientists believe boosting our natural levels of telomerase could rejuvenate them.
A team at the Spanish National Cancer Centre in Madrid tested the theory on mice and found that those genetically engineered to produce 10 times the normal levels of telomerase lived 50 per cent longer than normal.
Maria Blasco, who led the research, told the New Scientist said that the enzyme was capable of turning “a normal, mortal cell into an immortal cell”.
She added that she was optimistic that a similar approach may eventually lead to extended human lifespans – though she urged caution.
“You can delay the ageing of mice and increase their lifespan,” she said.
“(But)I think it is very hard to extrapolate data from mouse ageing to human ageing.”
One of the problems with boosting telomerase is that it can increase the risk of cancer.
Dr Blasco said this could be overcome by also issuing cancer drugs that could offset the negative affects.
She said that the mice with the boosted enzyme also saw other health benefits – often associated with youth such as less subcutaneous fat and better glucose tolerance.
By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent
Last Updated: 4:44PM GMT 20 Nov 2008
Source: The Telegraph