There are probably three or four studies now that show one simple irrefutable fact: you must turn on and increase telomerase expression to improve longevity. Most of them have come from Maria Blasco’s lab in Madrid Spain but the first one actually came from a lab in Texas by a fellow I have had the good fortune to speak with as well: Jerry Shay.
There have been a couple of ways to do this. Originally it was done with oncogene (cancer) promoters attached to the telomerase gene to turn it on. Ironically in these cells the experiment ended not because of cancer but because of boredom and expense. Basically the lab tech pleaded for mercy after the number doublings (effectively the replicative lifespan) exceeded 700% normal. At that point the cells were mercifully sent on into the great beyond since they had become immortal already and new studies with new cell lines were begun.
What is the take-home message from this study?
Add in enough telomerase to healthy cells and you will get healthy immortal cells without cancer.
Since that time others have replicated the data and found more or less the same thing: Telomerase activation improves healthspan and if you turn it up high enough (but not to high! Remember Goldilocks – JUST RIGHT!) you also get longevity improvements.
There have been other interesting finds that point to telomerase being one of the major keys to health and longevity.
Dr Blasco’s lab pioneered the use of a non-cancer-causing viral vector called AAV9 which has some special properties when coupled with telomerase. First, it is trophic, meaning it gets into lots of different cell and tissue types and next, it is “non-integrative” which means it does not insert itself into the DNA (genome). Two things happen because of this.
First, these little “virosomes” churn out telomerase like little telomerase factories. But with each cell division the effect is diluted out. This is important because in the past some integrative viral vectors (those that got into the genes) caused ongoing expression of telomerase from embryonic age on and did increase cancer incidence in measurable if not massive amounts. The dilutional aspect of the AAV9 virosomes allowed them to be added in mouse “middle age” and old age and the increases in telomerase were limited in amount and time compared to the mice that were genetically engineered.
The result of AAV9?
Middle aged mice lived 24% longer old mice lived 14% longer. So it does appear in mice at least that earlier treatment results in more effects. Now I have to tell you that is actually the opposite experience that I have seen with TA-65 because often the fastest and most dramatic effects are seen in older people who ostensibly would need it more. Keep in mind that younger and middle aged people also can benefit tremendously and there is value in “preventative” telomere maintenance.
The other critical thing to note is: unlike calorie restriction it appears that not only does the “average mouse” live longer than its non-telomerase-activated relative but also the oldest of the old mice gain in lifespan.
So you can no longer say that calorie restriction is the only way to lengthen life. In mice it does not seem to work that way UNLESS you add in telomerase.
That is the result of Dr Blasco’s most recent paper released just today.*
Calorie restriction did not lengthen life in her mice. It did improve neurologic parameters and decrease the incidence of cancer and metabolic disorders, but the mice still died at the typical age of mouse death.
When you added in telomerase by the genetic manipulation, which normally causes cancer, the calorie restriction appears to reduce the cancer risk associated with the ongoing high level telomerase expression back to baseline. Only problem: the mice were only 3 months old when the calorie restriction started, which equates to about 18 years old in people. That is a long time without Twinkies!
I hope you understand the importance of all of this work. These scientists have identified the level of telomerase, the ways it can and should be expressed and the direct effects on longevity without causing cancer.
In addition, Dr Blasco has found a way to extend mammalian life span with and without calorie restriction.
It’s called telomerase.
*In case you are wondering how I got all this info the same day the info hit the presses, I spent an hour on the phone with Maria Blasco today – something I get to do more often than most!