Researchers get first clear look at anti-aging enzyme

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The telomerase enzyme has been touted as the body’s anti-aging warrior. It repairs the ends of chromosomes, called “telomeres”, after DNA replication.

Telomeres shorten as we age, making them both a cause and a benchmark of aging. Because telomerase thwarts, or at least slows that process, it’s been likened to the plastic tips on shoelaces that keep the laces, or, in this case, chromosomes, from unraveling over time.

Scientists have been eager to design drugs that might cause the body to make more telomerase and retard aging. But they couldn’t because they couldn’t figure out exactly how telomerase is structured – whether it works singly or in paired strands, or just how many proteins each molecule encompasses.

Now, scientists at the University of California at Berkeley have finally gotten a decent look. Previous microscopic scans could resolve images to about 30 angstroms. (An angstrom is one hundred-millionth of a centimeter.)

The Berkeley scan resolved the view to about eight angstroms. The team is now working toward a clarity of about four angstroms, which is a good enough view to begin to design drugs.

TRENDPOST: Stimulating the body to make more telomerase could slow the aging process. But knowing how to fool the body into blocking its production also could stunt the growth of cancer cells, an effect to which telomerase has been linked. Drugs for both uses could be in human trials by 2025.