BOSTON (CBS) — Scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute say they have been able to partially reverse age-related degeneration in mice.
The milestone is linked to the erosion of something called telomeres, which are located at the tip of a chromosome, almost like a cap.
Scientists say the deterioration this cap may contribute to the degeneration and functional decline in the elderly.
Replacing the telomerase in the mice allowed scientists to reverse many signs of aging, such as brain disease and infertility. “We wanted to know: If you could flip the telomerase switch on and restore telomeres in animals with entrenched age-related disease, what would happen?” explained Ronald DePinho, MD, the senior author of the report and the director of Dana-Farber’s Belfer Institute of Applied Cancer Science. “Would it slow down aging, stabilize it, or even reverse it?”
This procedure has not been tested on humans, but scientists hope to do so in the future. “Replacing the telomerase in humans might one day be able to treat conditions such as rare genetic premature aging syndromes in which shortened telomeres play an important role,” said DePinho.
“Whether this would impact on normal aging is a more difficult question,” he added, “But it is notable that telomere loss is associated with age-associated disorders and thus restoration of telomeres could alleviate such decline.”
Despite the discovery, scientists are still concerned that the process could fuel hidden cancers or cause new ones to develop.
Researchers are now trying to figure out how to minimize this risk.