Dr. Ioannis K. Toliopoulos, PhD, Physiologist, Post Doc in Immunology in Reproductive Medicine
Nowadays, there is a lot of talking about cancer, but also for new biological markers that contribute in the laboratorial proof of improving the quality of life and longevity of the modern human. Telomerase, an enzyme which is the main regulator of the length of the human chromosome telomere, is one of these important factprs in anti-aging1, 2. J. Muller and Barbara Mc Clintoc described telomeres in the beginning of 1930 (complex name from the Greek word “telos” and “meros”) as a protective shield of the genetic code, which are the edges of our chromosomes. The lack of telomere leads the cellular death3. The meaning of those biological markets is huge, if someone thinks that recently in 2009 the Nobel price in medicine was given in three scientists (Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak) for their important studies in terms of structure, function, and the effects of telomerase and telomeres in the cells4.
Today, many researchers try to clarify telomerase’s secrets and they believe that its role is important in cancer and in anti-aging. Telomerase works maintaining and repairing the lengths of telomeres adding recurrent small fragments of DNA so it can prevent the damage and loss of genetic material during cellular division. Telomerase is very active in the embryonic stem cells and in other cells that multiply slowly, but is almost inactive in the normal adult cells and so it can’t manage the dangers of the continuous regeneration. However, in the cancer cells the capability of activation of telomerase is regained frequently.
Recent research has proven that the frequent exercise and the healthy diet can contribute in the increase of telomerase levels and therefore protect from cellular aging. Professor Dean Ornish et al. conducted a study in the institute of Preventive medicine in California, USA, in order to check where during intensive alternation of way of life, the action of telomerase would provoke the increase of PBMCs (peripheral blood monocyte cells). The 24 participants in this study, received a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, vitamin supplements and fish, and followed an exercise program including gymnastics, stress control, relaxation and respiration techniques. Results showed an increase in telomerase in an average range of 29%. It is very important to be mentioned that the increase of telomerase was combined with the decrease in LDL and the psychological exhaustion5
On the other hand, telomerase has been proven that is involved in the activity of the cancer cells and in 90% of tumors, but the largest part of its structure still remains unknown. Because of this, “telomerase is widely considered the first target for the development of new therapies against cancer”, says Professor Manolis Skordalakis from Wistart institute of Philadelphia, USA. In studies that the Professor conducted, he concluded that telomerase, besides its role in cancer, remains one of the most important factors in anti-aging. When telomerase is actionless, cells become unstable and finally die. But, when telomerase is activated, cells continue their division and their survival. This is why, scientists believe that when telomerase is conserved under certain manageable conditions, it could lead the scientific community to new innovative anti-aging therapies. Professor Skordalakis and his colleagues found that a gene from beetles that could produce large amounts of telomerase in a stable rhythm. In their studies, they concluded that the gene from beetles could express telomerase in necessary quantities and that event was a very important discovery. Then, by using X ray crystallography, the researchers were in the position to estimate the 3D structure of the active site of telomerase, which is an important discovery for further studies based on the active portion of telomerase6.
For the above reasons, the evolution in the telomerase research seems to be gradual and very promising if we consider its combination with stem cells and other cells that have the capability to multiply themselves frequently. Moreover, in the Greek territory which is very rich in natural plants and herbals, scientists could investigate the levels of telomerase in the anti-aging field using natural sources. In other words, further research could be conducted whether which plant extracts activate and stabilize the levels of telomerase in cells, so the longevity of the humans can be rapidly increased on this planet.
1. Blasco MA. Mammalian telomeres and telomerase: why they matter for cancer and aging. Eur J Cell Biol. 2003;82:441-446.
2. Shay JW, Zhou Y, Hiyama E, et al. Telomerase and cancer. Hum Mol Gen. 2001;10:677-685.
3. Greider CW, Blackburn EH. Telomeres, telomerase and cancer. Sci Am. 1996;2:92-97.
5. Ornish D, Lin J. Deubenmier J, Weidner G, Epel E, Kemp C, Magbanua MJM, Marlin R, Yglecias L, et al. Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study. The Lancet Oncology. Early Online Publication, September 2008. DOI:10.1016/S1470-2045(08)70234-1.
6. Skordalakes E. Telomerase structure paves the way for new cancer therapies. Future Oncol. 2009 Mar;5(2):163-7. Review.