This New Year has begun with amazing news on telomere research. A research group from Harvard led by Dr. Ronald DePinho has directly demonstrated in rodents that telomerase reactivation can reverse tissue degeneration improving the function of key organ systems (Nature Volume 469, January 2011, pages 102–106). What the researchers first did was to incapacitate the telomerase enzyme gene from mice. (This portion of the experiment had been done by other researchers which first demonstrated how important telomerase activity is in light that without the enzyme, the rodents had shorter telomere and suffered from age-related pathologies at an accelerated pace, became sterile after few generations and more importantly died young.) Then Dr. Ronald DePinho researchers re-introduced the telomerase enzyme gene back into the mice but with a special modification that allowed the researchers to turn on and off the telomerase activity. What the researchers observed that was truly amazing was that turning on the telomerase gene for just a one-month period caused the following results.
The malfunctioning spleen, liver, intestines regenerated and recovered to a more youthful appearance. The testis of males, which had all but stopped functioning, worked again, restoring fertility. The brain size increased and neural progenitor cells (cells destined to become neurons) worked again. Essentially one month of telomerase reactivity caused a dramatic reversal of these age-related pathologies giving real hope to regenerative remedies. This study also further establishes how important maintaining telomeres are since damaging them is linked to age-associated organ decline and early mortality.