A experimental gene therapy that involves injecting mice with an dose of telomerase, an enzyme the helps to keep chromosomes young, has so far succeeded in extending the lives of mice by 24 percent. The study was led by Maria Blasco at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre and published in EMBO Molecular Medicine.
How does the therapy work? As bodies get older, cells are replaced through cell division. As this happens, the parts of DNA at the ends of chromosomes, the telomeres, begin to decline, eventually leading to the halting of cell division and consequently tissue degradation. The telomerase gene injected into the mice worked to slow the cellular ageing process by extending the telomere ends (seen in white in the image above).
The experimental gene therapy, which involved replacing the genes of a virus with the gene for telomerase, was administered to 1 and 2 year old mice. Mice are considered adult at 1 year and old at 2 years. The lives of the 1 year old mice were extended by 24 percent, and the 2 year old mice by 13 percent.
These are not the first experiments to be carried out with telomerase. Mice previously genetically engineered to make telomerase have lived up to 40 percent longer, and have displayed improved glucose tolerance and coordination, compared to normal mice.
If this kind of gene therapy happens to become widely available for humans in future years, would you be willing to undergo it for the possibility of extended your lifespan?