A gene therapy, whose objective is to combat the deterioration of the organism that occurs as a result of the aging, has offered good results when it has been tested in mice, since it has managed to prolong the life of these animals up to 24%. The research, which has been published in 'EMBO Molecular Medicine', has been carried out by Spanish scientists from the National Center for Oncological Research (CNIO).
The new therapy is based on a technique that had not been previously tested, and that acts directly on the genes, getting the cells to express telomerase, an enzyme that is responsible for maintaining the length of the telomeres (the ends of the chromosomes) when the cells divide.
Previous studies have already proven that aging and its associated damage accelerates when the telomeres are reduced below a minimum length and, because of this, a series of genetic alterations that result in a decrease in the activity of the cells, which eventually lose their ability to divide and age or die, so the body's tissues stop regenerating. Telomerase has the property of stopping the shortening of telomeres and even of rebuilding them.
The health of the animals improved significantly, and it was observed that the development of conditions associated with aging such as insulin resistance and osteoporosis was delayed
The CNIO researchers introduced a virus in mice that had previously modified the DNA, replacing it with the enzyme telomerase, and the virus - which is derived from others that are not pathogenic in humans and is considered very safe - was responsible for transporting the telomerase gene to the cells. The health of the animals improved significantly and it was observed that the development of conditions associated with aging such as insulin resistance -One of the main risk factors for the development of metabolic syndrome and diabetes- and osteoporosis.
In the youngest mice, to which the treatment was applied when they turned one year of age, their longevity was increased by 24%, while those who were two years old when receiving the therapy came to live 13% more than normal. The authors of the study have also highlighted that none of the animals in the experiment developed cancer, a risk associated with telomerase-based therapies, and attribute it to the fact that the treatment is administered to adult mice, in which there is no time to that enough alterations accumulate for tumors to develop.
If its safety in humans is proven, this therapy, which is administered only once, could serve, according to its discoverers, to develop new treatments against diseases associated with the presence of excessively short telomeres, and all those that are a consequence of the aging of the cells, such as cardiovascular disorders or insulin resistance, whose incidence increases markedly with age.