Confirmation is a vital part of the scientific process. In this case confirmation involves our knowledge of telomeres. We know that telomeres, the short strip of DNA found at the ends of chromosomes, play a big role in protecting the DNA from gene loss during the many replications within a cell. One of the 2009 Nobel Prize winners in medicine for elucidating the role of telomeres, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, likened telomeres to the “…aglets [plastic ends] on shoe laces that keep them from fraying.” It has also been hypothesized that telomeres help to prevent cells from aging, or from becoming cancerous.
A study conducted by scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, USA provides confirmation through examination of living people.
Each time a cell divides, its telomeres erode slightly and become progressively shorter with each cell division. Eventually, telomeres become so short that their host cells stop dividing and lapse into a condition called cell senescence. As a result, vital tissues and important organs begin to fail and the classical signs of aging ensue.
In investigating the role of telomeres in aging, the Einstein researchers studied Ashkenazi Jews because they are a homogeneous population that was already well studied genetically. Three groups were enrolled: 86 very old — but generally healthy — (average age 97); 175 of their offspring; and 93 controls (offspring of parents who had lived a normal lifespan).
“Telomeres are one piece of the puzzle that accounts for why some people can live so long,” says Gil Atzmon, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine and of genetics at Einstein, Genetic Core Leader for The LonGenity Project at Einstein’s Institute for Aging Research, and a lead author of the paper. “Our research was meant to answer two questions: Do people who live long lives tend to have long telomeres? And if so, could variations in their genes that code for telomerase account for their long telomeres?”
The answer to both questions was “yes.”
“Our findings suggest that telomere length and variants of telomerase genes combine to help people live very long lives, perhaps by protecting them from the diseases of old age,” says Dr. Suh. “We’re now trying to understand the mechanism by which these genetic variants of telomerase maintain telomere length in centenarians. Ultimately, it may be possible to develop drugs that mimic the telomerase that our centenarians have been blessed with.”
[Source: Einstein University]