Activating the Enzyme of Youth

Ashley Goland ’23

chromosome
Figure 1: The ends of chromosomes are called telomeres, and they shorten with each round of cell replication.

The cause of aging has long been one of mankind’s favorite mysteries to entertain, and as science advances, its secrets are gradually being stripped away. Studying chromosome structure revealed sections called telomeres, sequences of repeated nucleotides on the ends of a chromosome that serve to prevent its deterioration, and from this discovery came a revelation about age. Aging-related diseases such as dementia, arthritis, and osteoporosis have been linked to short telomere lengths in human cells, and scientists now believe that activating an enzyme called telomerase, which is normally deficient in adult somatic cells, could help prevent those and other diseases. Dimitris Tsoukalas and fellow researchers from the University of Crete took on the project of investigating whether natural compounds could positively affect the activity of telomerase in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs).

To begin their study, the scientists collected samples of these cells from healthy volunteer donors and treated them with varying concentrations of eight different natural compounds. Following treatment, the cells were collected and washed, and their telomerase activities were recorded. None of the compounds were found to be toxic to the cells, as  the level of cell death observed in treated cells was similar to that observed in untreated cells. Every compound except Nutrient 1 (a multi-nutrient formula) yielded statistically significant increases in telomerase activity, and of the compounds tested, the “08AGTLF” sample containing Centella asiatica extract was the most effective at activating telomerase, increasing its activity by 8.8 folds compared to untreated cells.

In addition to a negative control group, the researchers also used a positive control— extract from HeLa cancer cells. It is common for cancer cells to express high levels of telomerase activity, hence their usefulness as a control for comparison. Telomerase levels in PBMCs treated with 08AGTLF reached 17.3% of the levels in HeLa cells. This reaction was far stronger than any reactions elicited by the other compounds, which suggests that 08AGTLF could hold promise as a natural anti-aging agent.

With a number of diseases having been linked to short telomere lengths, finding a way to prevent telomere shortening could be key to developing effective treatments, and even cures. The mechanisms by which 08AGTLF stimulates telomerase have yet to be uncovered, and future human studies would be another important next step to better understanding how this compound affects human health and aging.

Works Cited:

[1] D. Tsoukalas, et al., “Discovery of potent telomerase activators: Unfolding new therapeutic and anti-aging perspectives.” Molecular Medicine Reports 20, 3701-3708 (2019). Doi: 10.3892/mmr.2019.10614

[2] Image retrieved from: https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/chromosomes-gm174914359-21700395

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