At the ends of shoe laces, there is a little metal or plastic end-cap that keeps the lace from fraying. This cap is called an “aglet”. When the aglet is lost, the lace begins to unravel.
This same problem happens in the cells of your body. DNA strands are generally found in an X shape. The ends of the arms of the X have end-caps called “telomeres”.
When we are born, the telomeres are long, but over time, as the cells duplicate, they lose bits off the end of the new telomeres until eventually the telomeres are gone, and the cells refuse to replicate (they become senescent).
Illustration 4: Human chromosomes photographed using the FISH technique (Fluorescent In Situ Hybridization). The telomeres are bright pink.
The limit number of cellular divisions possible because of telomere shortening is known as the Hayflick limit (after Leonard Hayflick, who first noticed it), and has been cited by some as proof that humans cannot live beyond an estimated 120 years.
In September 2015, Elizabeth Parrish became the first human to receive a telomere lenghtening treatment.
Elizabeth’s son had been undergoing treatment for type 1 diabetes, so she spent a lot of time in hospitals, wondering why there was a lot of research that showed that common issues could be solved, and yet the research never seemed to leave the labs and reach the hospitals where they could make a difference.
So, Elizabeth founded a company, BioViva to help speed along the process, and volunteered to be a test subject for the treatments the company produced, most famously the telomere lengthening project.
Telomerase therapy, which lengthens telomeres, can extend cellular lifespan and make cells more resilient to damage.
BioViva stated that six months after the treatment, Elizabeth’s telomeres had lengthened by 9%.
The same treatment had already been tested on mice in Spain under the stewardship of María Blasco, director of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre in 2012, which found that by lengthening the telomeres of mice, they were able to extend their lifespans by 20%.
In a human, that’s probably about an extra 14 years. And you may be able to repeat the procedure every ten years if you need to.