Telomeres are end-caps that keep your DNA from fraying. Over the years, they get smaller and smaller, until they’re so small the cells go into senescence mode and stop splitting.
When a cell is in senescence mode, it refuses to die, and instead just hangs around giving out inflammation-inducing proteins. Senescent cells are useful for helping healing wounds, but other than that, they’re a nuisance.
A study by John P. Cooke and associates found that telomeres in progeria sufferers tend to shorten much quicker than usual. This leads to very quick aging of the body, and usually death by age 15 or so.
In normal cells, telomeres cause death by aging by about age 120 (the Hayflick limit). The observation that telomere shortening is highly linked to aging in progeria makes that all the more obvious.
There has been speculation that telomere lengthening would help improve life-span, but very little evidence in humans, because we live so long compared to lab animals.
In 2015, Elizabeth Parrish, head of the company Bioviva, became the first person to undergo a telomere-lengthening treatment, and follow-up tests showed that she had indeed lengthened them by 9%, but there was nothing noticeable to show that the treatment had any positive effect.
The study done by Cooke showed that extending telomeres in progeria sufferers has an almost immediate effect, with a decrease in senescence-related beta-galactosidase staining, and reduced secretion of inflammatory cytokines. In Elizabeth’s case, it is possible she just had not reached the age where those would be measurable.
Telomere extension is one of the most important treatments that we will need to get into local clinics. It’s great to see it making some proper traction!