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The desire for eternal life has been repeatedly described in stories, treatises and records since human history. The life expectancy of residents in western industrialized countries is already higher than ever. Researchers on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry are working on life-extending agents and therapies worldwide. If the initial spark was found, pharmaceutical manufacturers would be guaranteed billions of dollars in earnings.
Scientists at the Spanish National Cancer Center have reportedly made their first breakthrough. Treatment with the telomerase gene could significantly increase the life of adult mice in the laboratory. "As a result, the animals did not suffer from any type of cancer and showed themselves to be in excellent health," said the research team.
In the experiment, they treated mice, which usually live around 36 months old, with an "adeno-associated virus" at the age of 12 or 24 months. The virus was manipulated and contained the carrier of the telomerase gene that was injected into the mice.
Telomerase is considered a rejuvenating gene
Telomerase is an enzyme that is not active in most cells in the body. The enzyme was discovered in 1985 by researchers led by Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider in eyelash animals. Soon after, the rejuvenating enzyme became the shooting star of regenerative research. The gene is also interesting because it ensures that chromosome ends, the telomeres, are preserved in stem, immune and cancer cells. This is not the case with a natural aging process.
In the course of the study, the mice showed improved insulin sensitivity, increased bone strength, better body coordination and good general condition through the additional administration of the enzymes, as the team explains in the science magazine "EMBO Molecular Medicine" in the study report. The result showed that the lifespan was extended by an average of 24 percent if the animals were vaccinated at the age of one year of the manipulated virus. The lifespan of the animals that received the telomerase gene at the age of 24 months increased by around 13 percent.
No increase in cancer
The cancer risk did not increase, as in previous studies, the scientists explained. In previous experiments with the telomerase gene, serious side effects repeatedly occurred. The animals showed a significantly increased susceptibility to the development of malignant tumors. Up until now, this has always been considered an insurmountable factor in gene therapies to extend life expectancy. "The treated mice showed the same frequency of cancer as the animals without gene therapy," the authors write.
It remains unclear whether the therapy is also transferable to humans. It is not excluded that further, as yet unknown side effects can occur. Therefore, further research is needed. (sb)
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