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CNIO scientists successfully test the first gene therapy against aging-associated decline
Date:5/14/2012

ase-based anti-ageing gene therapy without increasing the incidence of cancer", the authors affirm. "Aged organisms accumulate damage in their DNA due to telomere shortening, [this study] finds that a gene therapy based on telomerase production can repair or delay this kind of damage", they add.

'Resetting' the biological clock

Telomeres are the caps that protect the end of chromosomes, but they cannot do so indefinitely: each time the cell divides the telomeres get shorter, until they are so short that they lose all functionality. The cell, as a result, stops dividing and ages or dies. Telomerase gets round this by preventing telomeres from shortening or even rebuilding them. What it does, in essence, is stop or reset the cell's biological clock.

But in most cells the telomerase gene is only active before birth; the cells of an adult organism, with few exceptions, have no telomerase. The exceptions in question are adult stem cells and cancer cells, which divide limitlessly and are therefore immortal in fact several studies have shown that telomerase expression is the key to the immortality of tumour cells.

It is precisely this risk of promoting tumour development that has set back the investigation of telomerase-based anti-ageing therapies.

In 2007, Blasco's group proved that it was feasible to prolong the lives of transgenic mice, whose genome had been permanently altered at the embryonic stage, by causing their cells to express telomerase and, also, extra copies of cancer-resistant genes. These animals live 40% longer than is normal and do not develop cancer.

The mice subjected to the gene therapy now under test are likewise free of cancer. Researchers believe this is because the therapy begins when the animals are adult so do not have time to accumulate sufficient number of aberrant divisions for tumours to appear.

Also important is the kind of virus employed to carry the telomerase gene
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Contact: Juan J. Gomez
juanj.gomez@cnio.es
34-917-328-000-4060
Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncologicas (CNIO)
Source:Eurekalert  

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CNIO scientists successfully test the first gene therapy against aging-associated decline
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