Can we stop the signs of ageing?

Old people

Anti-ageing creams continue in their popularity as more people become concerned with the effects ageing has on their skin. Yet, a piece of research has shown the potential to ‘turn off’ the effects of ageing.

Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies believe they have discovered an on-and-off “switch” in cells that may hold significant information regarding healthy aging. Our bodies are constantly replenishing our organs through the use of newly divided cells. However, most human cells cannot divide indefinitely. Each division causes a cellular timekeeper to shorten at the ends of chromosomes. When this timekeeper, called a telomere, becomes too short, cells are no longer divide, which in turn, causes organs and tissues to degenerate; a recognisable symptom of old age.

By observing slight differences in telomerase enzymes levels within in the yeast Saccharomyes cerevisiae – the same yeast used to make wine and bread – at high resolution, scientists were able to gain an understanding of how telomerase assembles. In their study, in the journal Genes and Development, Victoria Lundblad and Timothy Tucey have discovered that telomerase, even when present, has a ‘switch’ which can be turned off. They believe that this disassembly pathway may provide a means of keeping telomerase at low levels inside the cell. Eroding telomeres in normal cells can contribute to the ageing process, however, cancer cells, in contrast, rely on elevated telomerase levels to ensure unregulated cell growth. Tucey and Lunbland’s discovery of an “off” switch may help keep telomerase activity below this threshold.

These findings may hold substantial consequences for human health and development as even small differences in an individual’s telomerase levels could result in distinct outcomes for their health development.

Despite the mention of cancer cells in their press release, it is unclear how the Salk Institute intend to apply their findings in the field of medicine and human health. However, the potential of their findings is well-defined. As well as the observation of cancer cells, it may also be of interest to view telomerase levels of Alzheimer’s patients. The side effects of such a ‘switch’ is also a point of significance.

photo credit: ulrichkarljoho via photopin cc

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Intervention Teacher and Freelance Writer with a Psychology BSc and MA in Education. Lives in East London with husband and two disabled cats. @MontagMildred

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